(director/writer: Carlo Mirabella-Davis; cinematographer: Katelin Arizmendi; editor: Joe Murphy; music: Nathan Halpern; cast: Haley Bennett (Hunter Conrad), Austin Stowell (Richie), Denis O’Hare (Erwin), Elizabeth Marvel (Katherine Conrad), David Rasche (Michael Conrad), Zabryna Guevara (Alice), Luna Lauren Velez (Lucy), Laith Nakli (Luay), Babak Tafti (Aaron), Nicole Kang (Bev); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Mollye Asher, Mynette Louie, Carole Baraton, Frederic Fiore; IFC Films; 2019)
“Unpleasant feminist thriller that’s hard to digest.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An unpleasant feminist thriller that’s hard to digest, no matter how tempting it might seem. It’s written and directed in his feature film debut by Carlo Mirabella-Davis (“The Swell Season”), with an unhealthy appetite for controversy.
The Hudson Valley, Upstate New York, wealthy suburban trophy wife, the attractive Hunter Conrad (Haley Bennett), is married to the handsome but controlling Richie Conrad (Austin Stowell), the son of a powerful and devilish businessman Michael (David Rasche). Richie was given anything he ever wanted in life by his dad (including his great job) and was spoiled rotten, and he now expects similar treatment from his wife.
We learn from Hunter’s therapist (Zabryna Guevara) that she has developed a rare eating disorder called pica, which compels her to swallow small, non-food objects, the sharper the better. Upon realizing she’s pregnant, Hunter celebrates the joyous news by downing a small glass marble (the one she kept from her childhood), some thumbtacks and a double-A battery. There are times we see our heroine doubled over in pain, which should not be a surprise since she just doesn’t eat right. When her family learns of her pregnancy, a private male nurse (Laith Nakli) is hired by them to care for the patronized Hunter. Meanwhile Richie’s witch-like mother Katherine (Elizabeth Marvel) treats her daughter-in-law as if she were a piece of furniture and not human.
Hunter’s meek and repressed, and seems fearful of upsetting her hubby. Thereby she tries to cater to all his needs. Later on we will learn she’s been self-punishing herself for perceived sins (now we’re talking Freudian!).
DP Katelin Arizmendi teams with filmmaker Mirabella-Davis’ for some impressive compositions that enhance this weird tale with arty symbolisms. Also, the filmmaker shows he has a good eye for color, as the tasteful screen color scheme of rosy blush and verdant green works well in making things visually pleasing.
If all else fails to move you about the heroine’s plight, Bennett’s hypnotic performance alone should. She’s so good at looking overwhelmed by her family and life, that we can roll with her inability to get out of the bad marriage and remain stuck in such an untenable situation. We, maybe, even can understand that she has gone mental when she swallows objects that stay inside her until released so that at all times she feels that things are under her control.
Todd Haynes’ Safe (1995) went for a similar theme of how a menacing environment could make one dysfunctional if a safe place to live can’t be found, but did it more artistically.
REVIEWED ON 3/11/2020 GRADE: B-