TWO films with lead characters who seem to be borderline lunatics are now being shown on Netflix: “Horse Girl” and “Swallow”. Both movies are not for mainstream audiences but will cater more to serious film aficionados in international film festivals since the characters are not at all relatable and show a form of mental illness.
“Horse Girl” is about a shy, quiet girl, Sarah (Allison Brie, who co-wrote the script), who works as a salesgirl in a store selling textile and paint. Her mom was afflicted with mental illness and we see her visiting her grave. She often visits a horse, Willow, who she rode when she was a child and this obviously irritates the new owners.
On her birthday, her room mate, Nikki (Debbie Ryan), takes pity on her as she’s all alone just watching her favorite sci-fi show, “Purgatory”. So Nikki introduces her to Darren (Jack Reynolds), who’s the boyfriend of Nikki’s own BF, Brian (Jake Picking, who played Rock Hudson in ‘Hollywood’.)
They hit it off well and seem to be headed to a romance, until Sarah talks about her beliefs in aliens, time travel and alien abduction. She believes she’s a clone and thinks Darren is conniving with aliens, so how do you think Darren would react? Things get weirder and weirder so Sarah is committed to a mental hospital. The movie ends with a spaceship appearing and Sarah is seen levitation towards it in the sky.
Director Jeff Baena takes a lot of risks in telling this kind of story where the viewer is not sure if what he’s seeing is real or just a figment of the charactes’s madness. But the treatment doesn’t work as we don’t sympathize at all with Sarah, whose lunatic behavior is very off-putting. All in all, it’s not a satisfying experience since why should we care about a girl who’s psychosis is apparently getting worse, with her losing her hold on reality? You just cannot make any connection with her at any level. Ho-hum….
‘SWALLOW’ is, in turn about a girl, Hunter (Haley Bennett), who seems to have it all. She has a handsome hunky husband, Richie (Austin Stowell), who comes from a very rich family. He and his parents are very supportive of her. Her in-laws even gifted them with a big beautiful house alongside the Hudson River in Upstate New York. They’re all very happy when she gets pregnant.
She used to be an illustrator but now, she’s not even required to work and just tends to their home and do some gardening. But apparently, this doesn't make her happy at all. She develops a fixation that makes her swallow different kinds of objects, from marbles and jackstone to safety pins, batteries and thumb tacks that are sharp and can be life-threatening. She says she likes the texture of these objects, specially metal, inside her mouth.
This is a disorder scientifically called pica and seeing Hunter swallow various kinds of objects can make you truly cringe and induce squirms. We avert our eyes from the screen when she does that, specially when she swallows a screwdriver and some soil. It’s implied that what she’s doing is a form of rebellion against restrictions imposed on her in her beautiful prison of a home, but hey, there are other less self destructive ways of showing your resentment about your situation in life.
We can take more Nora in Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” rebelling in a male-dominated world than this Hunter character who should have just found better things to do than ingest harmful objects. It’s revealed in her consultations with a psychiatrist that she is the product of a rape and has never met her real dad. She claims she has dealt with it but still feels so compelled to search for her biological father. In the end, she decides to abort her baby.
Compared to poor people in our slums struggling today against the corona virus and extreme poverty, Hunter might as well be living in paradise and luxury.
And she’s still not happy? Syet niya! We just can’t relate with her compulsion to swallow objects at all! We're sure many of our kababayans living in shanties or bangketas will be willing to exchange places with her anytime!
Both “Horse Girl” and “Swallow” are convincingly acted by their lead actresses. “Swallow”, in particular, has great production values. Director Carlo Davis surely knows his craft and the cinematography is cool, clean, shot in natural light. But still, his movie is really hard for a viewer to swallow and gulp. Both “Horse Girl” and “Swallow” are lucky that Netflix got them to give them wider viewership. We’re sure there’s a small percentage of their viewing audience who can appreciate this kind of off-the-wall films about damaged characters, but most ordinary viewers like will just find it boring.