Hunter (Haley Bennett) seems to have it all. An idyllic home life with a wealthy and seemingly supportive husband, Richie (Austin Stowell). The first few minutes of Swallow which illustrate Hunter’s daily routine make her life seem literally and figurative squeaky clean. As it turns out, her perfect life is only perfect on the surface since she develops an unusual eating habit once she becomes pregnant.
At that point, Swallow becomes a domestic psychological thriller in the vein of Rosemary’s Baby, but without the occult elements. Once Hunter’s husband and in-laws discover her eating habit, they keep a close eye on her to the point where she loses her autonomy, feeling as if the world is against her. Even before this discovery, there are little nuances that hint at the cracks of Hunter’s marriage like Richie getting flustered over her ironing the wrong tie.
Additionally, lead actress Haley Bennett wonderfully syncs in with the sunlit facade of Hunter’s home life. As she speaks in a high-pitched inflection as Hunter interacts with those close to her, her fluctuating voice tone shows a woman struggling to play the part of a perfect wife and mother. Elizabeth Marvel is in similarly terrific form as Hunter’s flustered mother-in-law, Katherine. Within the constraints of her limited screen time, Marvel analytically forces Hunter to see through her own facade.
A veneer as fragile as the red-covered windows in Hunter’s house that seem to enclose her and symbolize her ruination. Also, the aforementioned red is the only bright color in a world that seems devoid of it. Hunter’s picturesque yet dessicated home life is well-shot by cinematographer Katelin Arizmendi.
The film initially relies on its scenery to keep its momentum going rather than character development which becomes a slight detriment. Along with Austin Stowell’s domineering husband character being badly underwritten, Hunter is initially portrayed as an observant cipher. But once we learn more about Hunter’s backstory and her desire for eating inedible objects, things start to kick into high gear. The discussion of her past life also allows the picture to delve into the topic of class that it toys with delving into in the beginning beforehand.
The first act of Swallow is what prevents it from reaching further greatness due to its slow pace and undercooked thematic exploration. Yet, the movie still thrives thanks to its central performance from Haley Bennett and masterful cinematography. With those strong elements, Swallow is able to not bite off more than it can chew as it provides unsettling commentary on the nature of toxic marriages.