Hunter is the wife of a wealthy and handsome man who has an enormous and beautifully furnished house with tall glass windows and an eye-watering view – but no domestic help.

No matter. Hunter (Haley Bennett) is a neatness freak with a tendency to iron out all kinds of creases, even the ones on her husband’s silk tie. The garment is ruined, of course, and is among the warning signs that all isn’t well with this impeccably turned out housewife.

Hunter has a disorder that threatens to consume her. She has an appetite for indelible objects – glass marbles, paper, what have you. Her secret is safe inside her until she gets pregnant. In a film filled with moments of suspense and dread, the scene in which Hunter reaches for a pointed object is straight out of a horror film.

Is Hunter a fit case for institutionalisation or does she actually need empathy and a fair hearing? Haley Bennet’s tremendous central performance fills in the cracks in writer-director Carlo Mirabella-Davis’s first feature. Swallow, which is being streamed on Mubi India, does an excellent job of creating a mood of unrelenting creepiness, but is a bit scanty when it comes to exploring the roots of Hunter’s condition.

Hunter is located in a longstanding tradition of repressed, gaslit heroines who stumble towards a personal reckoning after putting themselves in harm’s way. The 93-minute movie skillfully captures Hunter’s loneliness and emptiness, but does her no favours by surrounding her with sketchy characters who behave in odd ways.

Among the inadequate representatives of the patriarchy that the film aims to challenge are Hunter’s spouse Richie (Austin Stowell), who never quite fulfills the requirements of the cad with a trophy wife. Richie’s parents (David Rasche and Elizabeth Marvel) are portrayed as snobs who looks down on Hunter’s humble origins But the real villain of the story is both within Hunter and elsewhere.

The plotting is occasionally clumsy, but the atmospherics are always on point. Cinematographer Katelin Arizmendi’s astute framing and evocative lighting create the perfect setting for Hunter’s quest. Intense close-ups of everyday objects lend them a frightening quality. When the camera rests on Haley Bennett’s expressive and sensitive face, the movie’s themes of survival and redemption come vividly alive. Bennett holds the film together with her every tic and tremble, and she easily soars over the rest of the cast and the narrative itself.

Swallow (2020).