Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Tribeca with Abe: Swallow

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which ran April 24th – May 5th.

Directed by Carlo Mirabella-Davis
US Narrative Competition

It’s a known phenomenon that, during pregnancy, women often experience strange cravings. Pairing unusual foods that might not otherwise go together can become the norm, and those not carrying a baby inside them can’t relate to why they’re in the mood for the things they are. While they may not be appealing, they’re rarely outright dangerous. In cinema, however, many horror movies choose an unborn child to be the source of the terror, manifesting inexplicable and disturbing behavior in the mother-to-be before coming into this world.

Hunter (Haley Bennett) lives in a huge, beautiful house with her workaholic husband Richie (Austin Stowell). When they learn that Hunter is pregnant, Richie eagerly tells his parents (David Rasche and Elizabeth Marvel), who treat Hunter in a condescending way that mirrors Richie’s constant ignoring and demeaning of his wife. Frustrated and lonely, Hunter gets an odd desire, to swallow objects not normally consumed by human beings, including a marble, a push pin, and a battery. Hunter doesn’t know why it gives her such satisfaction, but something within her compels her to try this reckless behavior that doesn’t sit well at all with Richie and his parents.

This is a peculiar and unsettling film, one that never exactly explains its purpose. As a character, Hunter is meek and unsophisticated, hardly deserving of the treatment that she gets from her spouse and in-laws but seemingly uninterested in even possessing her own thoughts and wishes. This bizarre temptation feels extremely random, and it’s unpleasant to watch with no real benefit. This shouldn’t be described as horror but instead as eerie and miserable. A subplot about Hunter’s upbringing feels almost irrelevant, demonstrating that the character and this story don’t have much worth.

Bennett doesn’t infuse too much energy into her performance, though there’s something to be said for muting her aversion to ingesting the many objects she tries to swallow. A Tribeca jury saw fit to award Bennett their Best Actress in a U.S. Narrative Feature award, a puzzling choice given the many other options in better films. The role may not be the best she’s had, but Marvel, from “Homeland” and “House of Cards,” stands out as Hunter’s mother-in-law, applying just the right combination of overbearing, manipulative opinion-sharing and maternal instinct. Watching this film, it seems there has to be an endgame in mind, but this uninviting experience heads nowhere, making everything that occurs feel distinctly pointless.


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