2020 | rated R | staring Haley Bennett | written & directed by Carlo Mirabella-Davis | 1 hr 34 mins |

{Mild Thematic Spoilers}

I regularly watch the goriest, most gruesome horror movies without batting an eye. While not a horror movie, per say, Swallow unearthed a new layer of squeamishness I didn’t know I had. Billed as a horror movie, the story is fundamentally a domestic drama about a woman, Hunter Conrad (Haley Bennett, The Girl on the Train), recently married, newly pregnant, who develops Pica’s Disease – the uncontrollable compulsion to eat inedible objects. The movie is wrapped in a body-horror concept that is more imagined than seen, but each scene of Hunter compulsively consuming something like a tack, a paperclip, a nail scraper or a pile of dirt – or medically being pulled out of her – is genuinely cringe-worthy in the best, most uneasy, possible way.

Very soon we get a sense that Hunter’s new perfect life is not what it seems on the outside. It has been fully built for her by her new husband, one designed to absorb the soft-spoken woman entirely into his life and the lives of his parents (Elizabeth Marvel, David Rasche) who don’t respect her enough to let her finish a story they asked for at dinner. She soon finds herself in a prison of full-length glass windows and dinner parties with people she barely knows. With her stomach-pumping cry for help the only thing getting her the ear of a psychologist, she matter-of-factly divulges a tragic past her husband knows nothing about.

I’m not certain how I was expecting a movie with this premise to unfold into a story, but it wasn’t where writer/director Mirabella-Davis takes it. I’m not sure how Pica’s Disease works, but Mirabella-Davis’ story links it very literally to trauma, as a physical manifestation for psychological distress with a solution just as tangible and literal. The movie shifts from being a body horror film to an escape film with Hunter’s husband (Austin Stowell) barking out threats like The Invisible Man reboot. He will find her wherever she goes.

Those questions aside, the movie is appealing and well put together all around. Haley Bennett is in just about every single scene and gives a terrific performance of sad, desperate understatement. Swallow is a unique film, falling somewhere between body-horror squirm-inducer and relationship character drama, and all of it without alien infestations or monsters, but a real psychological illness. That’s what makes it both rewarding and so hard to watch.