Swallow

Movie review by
Kat Halstead, Common Sense Media
Swallow Movie Poster Image
Stylish psychological drama has self-harm, strong language.
  • R
  • 2020
  • 94 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Themes include perseverance and regaining personal autonomy. Facing up to the past in order to take control of the future. A severe eating disorder is portrayed.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Central character, Hunter, is quiet, obedient -- like a stereotypical '50s housewife -- appearing powerless in her marriage to wealthy Richie. She takes steps toward feeling independent, but these are via a severe eating disorder. Richie and his father play traditionally male roles of providers and masters of the home -- talking over women, attempting to control their behavior with gifts.

Violence

Dangerous objects are ingested, including thumb tacks and batteries, resulting in blood shown on the tongue, in the bathroom. A character is pregnant; scenes in hospital involving ultrasounds, as well as operations to remove objects from inside body. Rape is mentioned. Abortion is referenced, partly shown on-screen. A sheep is portrayed in distress, its throat slit. Passing mentions of postpartum depression, war.

Sex

Sex and oral sex are depicted on-screen, though no nudity is shown.

Language

Strong language includes "c--t," "f--k," "f--king," "s--t," and "bulls--t," as well as "hell."

Consumerism

A character lives in an expensive home -- purchased by their parents -- with their spouse. Money is directly associated with power and control. Gifts are offered to maintain the status quo.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink alcohol at a party and with meals. They are seen mildly intoxicated on one occasion. Prescription drugs are mentioned.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Swallow is a tense psychological drama in which a woman is trapped in an unhappy marriage, and it deals with a number of difficult themes including self-harm. Hunter Conrad (Haley Bennett) develops an eating disorder called pica, which causes her to consume nonfood objects -- such as sharp metal pins -- some of which are disturbing to witness both as they are swallowed and as they pass through her system. Traditional gender roles are very strongly reinforced, with the men in powerful positions -- including Hunter's husband, Richie (Austin Stowell) and father-in-law, Michael (David Rasche) -- and the women subservient. However, Hunter does try and challenge this dynamic. Strong language is used, including "c--t," "f--k," and "s--t," and alcohol is consumed on a number of occasions, with characters appearing mildly intoxicated. Sex and oral sex are depicted on-screen without nudity. Other adult themes addressed in the movie include mention of rape, war, and abortion, with the overall result likely to be confusing and disturbing for children.

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What's the story?

In SWALLOW, Hunter Conrad (Haley Bennett) lives an outwardly charmed life, married to the wealthy Richie (Austin Stowell), and yet she finds herself playing a role and losing her identity. When a self-help book suggests that she try something new every day, she gradually begins ingesting small household objects -- her own secret act of rebellion that makes her feel alive. But when this is discovered by her husband during an ultrasound exam, she is placed under close observation and psychological evaluation. As she loses more and more control, Hunter questions the motives of those around her and must look to events in her own past to find freedom in the future.

Is it any good?

Swallow boasts a superb central performance from Bennett as Hunter. Despite showing little reaction or emotion behind her doll-like facade, each twitch of the mouth or movement of the eyeballs suggests feelings trapped within, and a sense of inevitability bubbling just below the surface. Hunter's experiences at home and with her husband, Richie, and in-laws Katherine (Elizabeth Marvel) and Michael (David Rasche) are filmed with a detached dreamlike quality that makes her small acts of rebellion -- though both psychologically and viscerally disturbing -- strangely welcome punctures to the domestic bubble.

The plot does build to a climax as the walls start closing in on Hunter and she must find her own version of freedom. But the ending seems somewhat tacked on, and the revelations and attempt to tie them into the ongoing psychology feel a little forced. Though the film seems to almost back away from the impact it initially promised, it is an interesting study of patriarchal control and the effects upon those who suffer under its weight, even within an environment of apparent privilege.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Hunter's eating disorder is portrayed in Swallow. Did it seem realistic? Why do you think Hunter self-harmed in this way?

  • Discuss the strong language used in the movie. Did it seem necessary or excessive? What did it contribute to the movie?

  • How are traditional gender roles represented in the movie? Why is it important to challenge stereotypes like these?

  • How does Hunter's character change during the film, and what are the most important lessons she learns? What character strengths does she need to achieve these changes? Why are these good character strengths to have?

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