Imagine a house: it’s upmarket, expensive, palatial and dreamlike. Inside there are beautiful furnishings, plush sofas, beds designed to help your posture, the best china and silverware, a shower that’s automatic and walk-in cupboards. Inside, the new occupants can be seen through the huge glass windows, about to enjoy their new life together in the house. But appearances can be deceiving and in this special abode, one half of the couple is trapped and cannot shake free from a world she cannot escape. So, just your average Sunday afternoon rom-com, then.
That story is the basis for Swallow, the feature debut from director Carlo Mirabella-Davis and concerns a young expectant mother Hunter (Haley Bennett) and her partner Richie (Austin Stowell) as they settle down in their new home, a preset from his well off parents. But Hunter isn’t happy: she is still in love and excited about her pregnancy, her underlying mental health problems are bubbling to the surface under the weight of the surroundings she finds herself in, namely the world of the upper-class, a place she has no control over but seemingly has control of her. She finds solace, however brief, in a surreal way, one that not even she can fathom.
As feature debuts go, this one is right up there with some of the very best we have seen in the last decade or so. Composed, articulate, thoughtful, provocative and measured, it has the hallmarks of so many filmmakers he is clearly inspired by, but to bring one’s own distinctive, singular vision to the screen within the confines faced with a small, independent film makes it all the more impressive. It’s both a slow burn and a tense thriller as Davis beautifully orchestrates his tale of mental health, toxic relationships and societal and economical standings, all the while keeping you on the edge of your seat as to where it may lead.
It helps, too, when you have someone so in sync with what story and themes you are trying to tell at the top of your acting pile and Davis lucked out with Bennett, who is as intoxicating as the film she inhabits. She’s been good before but this sees her head to the stratosphere as she throws herself into the role with no holds barred, with a complexity, honesty, and nuance that you’d struggle to find a comparison too, she’s just that good. Going to places you wouldn’t expect and doing things you don’t see coming, she’s a marvel right from the off.
While its themes are tough and provoking, Swallow excels from being both a psychologically rich and human examination of the effects of mental health whilst also being a taut, engrossing thriller that keeps you guessing long after the credits have rolled, not least got Bennett’s impeccable central turn and Davis’ calling-card in the making direction. Superb.