Last week, “The Invisible Man” served up a potent meditation on domestic abuse, then diluted it with campy scares. The quieter “Swallow” follows with a different body horror scenario: What happens when a woman’s trauma is directed inward?
Haley Bennett (“The Girl on the Train”) stars as Hunter, newly married to an arrogant, wealthy businessman (Austin Stowell) — literally named Richie! — and battling the loneliness of being a housewife. Soon, Hunter discovers, she’ll be a mother, too. She finds a strange solace, as she cleans their cavernous home, in swallowing objects of increasingly alarming shapes and sizes.
The disorder, called pica, isn’t a widely relatable one, and it’s hard to watch. But our visceral discomfort echoes Hunter’s turmoil as she turns to the one horrifying decision she feels she can still make for herself. Doctors suggest the bizarre behavior is due to a lack of iron, but “Swallow” offers a psychological thesis.
In his feature-film debut, director Carlo Mirabella-Davis creates a lush visual world. Hunter’s unraveling mental state happens in a pristine prison, where everything is beautifully curated but nothing can be touched; dashes of red hint at the anger beneath the surface. Richie’s overbearing parents (Elizabeth Marvel and David Rasche) serve essentially as jailers, bringing in hired help and a therapist to keep Hunter under surveillance.
Bennett, who’s been largely off the radar for a while, is heartbreaking and, eventually, fierce as her character begins to crave change. The film’s final act, with Denis O’Hare playing Hunter’s adversary, is a stretch — but regains its footing with a conclusion rooted in empathy for unseen inner battles all around us.