Recently, this writer had the opportunity to check out two fantastic indie genre films that fans should definitely keep an eye out for: the meta horror comedy I Blame Society from Gillian Wallace Horvat, which is currently making the festival rounds, and Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ Swallow, which opens in select theaters and hits VOD and digital this Friday, March 6th.
I Blame Society: I must admit, during the first 10 to 15 minutes of Gillian Wallace Horvat’s meta horror comedy, I Blame Society, I really wasn’t sure that I was enjoying it. But, by the time the film hit the 30 minute mark, though, I was full-on completely in love with all that I Blame Society had to say, and realized exactly just what Horvat was doing with her darkly comedic commentary on the world of independent filmmaking.
The film is centered around Gillian Wallace Horvat herself, albeit playing a very heightened version of herself (hopefully), a struggling filmmaker who has failed to break out in Hollywood despite her best efforts. In order to make her mark, and hopefully garner the interest of some producers she’s in talks with, Gillian has decided to resurrect an old project of hers—a documentary about her pursuit of becoming the perfect serial killer—but her enthusiasm and dedication to her craft gets the best of Gillian, as she soon finds the lines between her personal and professional lives beginning to blur in the most audacious and deadliest of ways.
While we’ve seen meta-critical takedowns of the filmmaking process before, there’s something uniquely fresh about the way Horvat goes about things in I Blame Society, especially because it feels so personal for her and that intimacy that drives her “character” to go to such great lengths to see her own directorial dreams fulfilled. I think that Gillian’s passionate pursuit is something most of us can relate to on some level—even if we wouldn’t necessarily go as deep down the rabbit hole as the would-be filmmaker at the center of this story does here.
But the heart of the matter at hand in I Blame Society is how unfairly the deck is stacked for those who have lofty dreams of being creative and must forge ahead alone, especially since the road to becoming successful can often be a treacherous one to travel. It’s no secret that women in particular find it even harder to make their way in Hollywood (things are getting better, but not by much even after the industry’s push for parity over the last few years), and Gillian’s frustrations, both real and fictionalized here, are palpable as she continues to hit various roadblocks throughout I Blame Society.
As someone who enjoys cinematic stories about long-suffering artists who are willing to push themselves to the brink in order to realize their dreams, I Blame Society hit quite a few of my proverbial buttons, and Horvat makes for a charmingly demented protagonist that, despite her often depraved actions, there’s still something about her plight where you can’t help but root for the persistently plucky and resourceful Gillian to come out a winner in the end. As mentioned, it took me a little while to settle into I Blame Society, but once I did, I had an absolute blast with Horvat’s brilliantly funny examination of just how hard it is to hustle as an independent filmmaker.
Movie Score: 4/5
Swallow: Admittedly, I knew nothing about Swallow going into it, other than the film’s provocative poster featuring Haley Bennett looking pensively at a pushpin, but I’m so glad I gave it a watch, because writer/director Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ stunning directorial debut is a devastating, yet powerful portrait of a young woman who is left feeling isolated by those around her who have very little understanding, and patience, for the mental health issues that she is struggling with.
Swallow is centered around Hunter (Bennett), a housewife who, on the surface, has the perfect life: she has an attractive and wealthy husband (Austin Stowell), she lives in a perfect home, and she has just found out that she’s pregnant. But Hunter’s life isn’t all it's cracked up to be, as she begins to crave ways to assert some control over her life as she feels diminished by her entire support system. Hunter’s frustrations end up manifesting through the psychological disorder PICA, where those afflicted consume non-nutritive substances and items that could potentially be dangerous as well. At first, Hunter’s disorder goes unchecked, but after an ultrasound at her pregnancy check-up reveals the shocking contents of her stomach, both her husband and his parents decide to insert themselves into Hunter’s struggles without really trying to get to the root of her problems or provide her with any kind of emotional support as well.
Truth be told, Swallow was an extremely frustrating watch for me, but I mean that wholly as a compliment, as I raged at nearly every single character in this film who wasn’t Hunter, due to their complete lack of sensitivity and compassion for the story’s protagonist. To them, her disease is an inconvenience, one that she just needs to “get over,” and I feel like anyone who has ever battled against any type of mental health issues will relate to the way Hunter is demeaned, talked down to, and completely misunderstood throughout Swallow.
As the emotional anchor for the film, Bennett gives a revelatory performance in Swallow, one comprised of grace, a stoic sense of determination, and a quiet sense of longing to fit in. She brings this absolutely fascinating character study full circle in such profound ways that it's hard not to root for her to find the peace Hunter so desperately needs. Both the production design and costuming perfectly reflect the picturesque world that Hunter lives in, and Katelin Arizmendi’s cinematography does a brilliant job capturing the isolation and emotional distance that Hunter feels from the people in her life who supposedly want the best for her.
An often gut-wrenching and compelling examination of how hard it can be to live up to the expectations of others, with Swallow, filmmaker
Carlo Mirabella-Davis demonstrates an extraordinary gift for storytelling, and I’m very excited to see whatever he does next.
Movie Score: 4.5/5