Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ Swallow is already one of the best thrillers of 2020 so far. However, I find it really hard to believe that another film can be so visually arresting and topically unique as this one, that also happens to have a female lead. I was very happy to have a conversation with Mirabella-Davis about this wonderful film. Please check it out when you have a chance, and in the meantime, here’s what we talked about.
I read that your grandmother, Edith, inspired Swallow, and I was wondering how exactly?
Carlo Mirabella-Davis: Yeah, absolutely. So, the film was inspired by my grandmother, who was a homemaker in the 1950s in an unhappy marriage. She developed various rituals of control. She was an obsessive hand-washer who would go through four cakes of soap a day and twelve bottles of rubbing alcohol a week. I think she was looking for order in a life she felt increasingly powerless in, trying to sanitize her environment. My grandfather, at the behest of the doctors, put her in a mental institution where she received electroshock therapy, insulin shock therapy, and a non-consensual lobotomy—where she lost her sense of taste and smell. I always felt like there was something punitive about it, that she was being punished in a way for not living up to society’s expectations of what they thought a mother should be, and I wanted to make a film about that. But, you know, handwashing isn’t very cinematic.
I remember seeing a photograph of all the contents of a patient’s stomach, who had pica, which had been surgically removed. They were all laid out on this table like an archaeological dig. I was fascinated. I wanted to know more. It almost seemed like something mystical, like a holy communion, and that’s how it began.
I was wondering what kind of research you might have done on pica, but you kind of answered the question for me. Is there anything else interesting or “crazy” that you might have found in your research about it?
I reached out to the world’s expert on pica, Dr. Rachel Bryant-Waugh, who actually wrote a case study of Hunter as if Hunter was a patient of hers, which made its way into the script. I was really lucky to have her as a consultant. Pica is a fairly rare disorder, but there are forms of it that a lot of us do. Like eating ice is technically pica and a lot of people chew ice. We tried to make the story as universal as possible even though someone might watch the film and say “Well, I wouldn’t consume a dangerous object,” they can understand why Hunter does it and feel a connection to what she’s going through.