According to Wikipedia, pica is categorized as “a psychological disorder characterized by an appetite for substances that are largely non-nutritive, such as ice (pagophagia); hair (trichophagia); paper (xylophagia); drywall or paint; sharp objects (acuphagia); metal (metallophagia); stones (lithophagia) or soil (geophagia); glass (hyalophagia); feces (coprophagia); and chalk”.
In “Swallow” (IFC Films), the feature length debut by gender-fluid writer/director Carlo Mirabella-Davis, Hunter (Haley Bennett, who has a Jennifer Lawrence quality) and Richie (the striking Austin Stowell) are young newlyweds, enjoying their incredible new home, purchased for them by Richie’s affluent parents Michael (David Rasche) and Katherine (Elizabeth Marvel). Richie, who works for Michael, has just been made managing director of his father’s company.
Hunter is clearly out of her league. As we soon learn, she hasn’t shared much about her background with Richie. That doesn’t stop Katherine from asking her inappropriate questions. In addition to being tactless with Hunter, Richie’s parents, and even Richie himself, have a habit of dismissing her to the point of neglect.
Everything changes when Hunter becomes pregnant. She’s suddenly worthy of more attention; although it’s no less improper, such as the self-help book Katherine gives to Hunter. Even with the added kindness and consideration, Hunter is still pretty much left to her own devices and therein lies the problem.
What might at first seem like odd pregnancy cravings turn out to be so much more. A glass box of small objects, including a marble, a seashell and a miniature padlock, find their way into Hunter’s mouth. The marble, swallowed, is retrieved and sanitized after Hunter passes it through her bowels.
Hunter’s obsessive behavior and descent, brought on by her deep-seated insecurity and her inability to take criticism, is only exacerbated by Richie’s narcissism and lack of social graces. Before long, it becomes clear that Hunter’s swallowing habit brings her as much pleasure as it does pain, with the pushpin rescued from the vacuum cleaner as a prime example. Also, the pages she devours, torn from the book given to her by Katherine.
Of course, this kind of self-destructive behavior can only go on so long before there are consequences. During an ultrasound, with Richie by her side, some of the items Hunter swallowed are discovered by the tech. She is rushed into surgery where a safety pin, a jack, a AA battery, and more are removed.
Hunter is taken to see Alice (Zabryna Guevara), a therapist paid for by Michael. A male nurse, Luay (Laith Nakli), is hired to look after Hunter at home. In therapy, Hunter reveals shocking details about her past, while at home, even under Luay’s watchful eye, Hunter is still able to access her secret stock of items to swallow. Her near-death from swallowing a small screwdriver leads to her being given an ultimatum – agree to be checked into a psych facility or get divorced from Richie.
Here is where, in a movie full of unexpected turns, “Swallow” takes its most bizarre detour. Hunter, on the run, confronts a man named Erwin (out actor Denis O’Hare), someone from her past who has played a pivotal role in her life, in a scene that is as devastating as it is freeing.
As non-traditional subject matter goes, “Swallow” is more than a little unsettling, but surprisingly easy to digest. “Swallow” is currently available on-demand as well as through various digital platforms.
Gregg Shapiro is the author of Fifty Degrees (Seven Kitchens, 2016), selected by Ching-In Chen as co-winner of the Robin Becker Chapbook Prize. Other books by Shapiro include the short story collections How to Whistle (Lethe Press, 2016) and Lincoln Avenue (Squares and Rebels Press, 2014), the chapbook GREGG SHAPIRO: 77 (Souvenir Spoon Press, 2012), and the poetry collection Protection (Gival Press, 2008).
He has work forthcoming in the anthology Reading Queer: Poetry in a Time of Chaos (Anhinga Press, 2018). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBT and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.