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Review: ‘Swallow’ is a genuinely disturbing viewing experience

Swallow Poster
(Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the movie industry to a screeching halt, I’ve become desperate in my quest for new releases. Sure, some studios have adapted, offering opportunities to rent or buy films on demand, but I have yet to reach the point where I feel I can justify spending $19.99 to watch “The Hunt” once.

So, in my desperation, I turned to the screening links piling up in my inbox in hopes of finding something worthwhile to pass the time. At least it would be new.

I’d heard positive things from the few who had seen “Swallow,” so with high hopes, I turned to the horror-thriller. The result, however, made “The Hunt” look all the more appealing.

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Haley Bennett as Hunter in “Swallow.” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

It looks like Hunter Conrad (Haley Bennett) has it all. A chic, modern mansion, a successful husband from a wealthy family, and a baby on the way. But things aren’t as they seem. After spending all day trapped in the house alone, things don’t get better when her controlling husband, Richie, gets home and pays more attention to his phone than his wife. Richie’s parents are even worse, constantly manipulating and belittling Hunter because of her underprivileged upbringing.

Feeling trapped, Hunter turns to a strange but seemingly innocent addiction that lets her feel in control. One day while her husband is at work, Hunter swallows a marble. Enthralled by the sensation of doing something wrong, a marble quickly becomes a button, then a battery. Her addiction grows until it turns into something truly dangerous, provoking outrage from her family.

In all honesty, I can genuinely say that “Swallow” was one of the most unpleasant viewing experiences I’ve ever had.

During one particular sequence, Hunter forces herself to swallow a thumbtack, and it legitimately triggered my gag reflex. I was forced to pause the movie and take a trip to the bathroom just to be sure I wasn’t going to ruin the carpet. Never before have I had such a visceral and instinctive reaction to anything on screen.

Swallow1
Haley Bennett as Hunter in “Swallow.” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

There’s certainly artistic value to be found in pushing boundaries with disturbing content, but the more disgusting something is, the better the overall film must be in order for the subject matter to feel justified. Here, that’s never accomplished.

On top of the unpleasantries of a film centered around swallowing strange objects, there’s nothing else to like in “Swallow,” either narratively or technically. The dialogue and relationships between the characters feels unnatural, and none of the actors work well together. Part of that can be attributed to the fact that none of the characters are likable in the slightest – even Hunter, the film’s protagonist.

For nearly three-quarters of the film, it’s a constant struggle to continue watching, not just because of the never-ending nausea. Finally, in the closing 20 minutes, someone on screen shows signs of life. When Hunter goes to confront her father and bury decades-old trauma, Bennett delivers the most moving bit of acting in the film. Unfortunately, it took 70 minutes to get there.

There may be some deeper metaphor at work in “Swallow,” but I couldn’t get past my literal retching to find it.

Star Rating: 1 out of 5

Zach Goins View All

Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Charlotte, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.

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