Interview – Carlo Mirabella, director of ‘Swallow’.

Ahead of the UK premiere of SWALLOW at Arrow Video FrightFest Halloween, director Carlo Mirabella-Davis reflects on the personal inspiration behind his debut feature, healing psychological wounds and his empathy for the horror genre.

SWALLOW is your directorial debut. How difficult was it to get the project off the ground?

Getting a film made is a fascinating process. My late, great teacher at NYU, Bill Reilly, would always say “script is coin of the realm”. The early stages involved perfecting the screenplay as much as I could, writing and rewriting until I felt confident sending it out.

The sacred bond between the producer and the director is the catalyst that brings a film into being. I asked my colleague who the best independent producers in the business were, and she said, “Mollye Asher and Mynette Louie, but you’ll never get them”.

I watched their films and was floored by how incredible they all were. As luck would have it, both Mollye and Mynette decided to work on the film. Amazing, inspiring, driven producers like Mollye and Mynette will support your vision, collaborate with you, and fight passionately to bring that vision to the world. Once we had the finished script and our team, we brought on an amazing casting director, Allison Twardziak, and we cast the lead roles of the film. We were incredibly lucky to have the brilliant Haley Bennett come on board as Hunter, and once she joined the production, along with the marvellous Austin Stowell, I knew we had a powerful film on our hands.

Raising the money was a bit of a challenge in the United States because independent film studios often don’t want to take a chance on a first-time director. Through Sundance Catalyst, we raised some money in the United States, but the bulk of the financing came from France, from our incredible investors Charades and Logical who took a chance on an unusual script, and I’m so glad they did, because they were absolutely wonderful to work with.

Haley Bennett is outstanding in the film as Hunter. How did you cast her?

We were so incredibly fortunate Haley Bennett accepted our offer to play the role of Hunter. She’s a profoundly brilliant actor, collaborator, and artist who delivers a tour-de-force performance in the movie. I’d seen Haley in Girl on a Train and was deeply impressed, so we made an offer and thankfully she accepted. Haley has a remarkable ability to evoke different layers of emotion simultaneously. She wears many masks throughout the film, layered on top of each other and she can convey all those layers of emotion, all those masks, simultaneously in just the twitch of her eye or the way Hunter fixes her hair. Haley was also an executive producer on the film and very devoted to the project. I got so incredibly fortunate that someone as committed, empathic, and imaginative as her brought Hunter to life with such specificity, authenticity, and heart.

Hayley Bennett in SWALLOW

Haley’s character suffers from a condition called Pica, an eating disorder that involves swallowing progressively dangerous non-food objects. What drew your attention to that particular illness?

I remember seeing a photo of all the contents removed from the stomach of a patient with pica, all these objects spread out like an archaeological dig. I wanted to know what drew the patient to those artifacts. It seemed like something mystical, almost like a holy communion, and I wanted to know more. I got in touch with the world‘s leading expert on pica, Doctor Rachel Bryant-Waugh, and she was kind enough to read the script and be a consultant on our film. Although pica is a relatively obscure condition, I felt it could be representative of any rituals of control, any reaction to a difficult situation, any obsessive behavior, and therefore, universal.

The film revolves around issues of control, repression and identity. How autobiographical is the story?

The film was inspired by my grandmother, Edith Mirabella, a homemaker in the 1950s in an unhappy marriage who developed various rituals of control. She was an obsessive handwasher who would go through four bars of soap a day and twelve bottles of sanitizing alcohol a week. I think she was looking for order in a life she felt increasingly powerless in. My grandfather at the behest of the doctors, put her into a mental institution where she received electroshock therapy, insulin shock therapy, and a non-consensual lobotomy which resulted in the loss of her sense of taste and smell. I always felt there was something punitive about how my grandmother was treated, that she was being punished for not living up to society’s expectations of what they felt a wife and a mother should be. I wanted to make the movie to show my grandmother, wherever she is, that her suffering did not go unnoticed. So much suffering goes unnoticed in our world today, and I think through the power of cinema we can increase empathy, fight prejudice, and heal psychological wounds.

SWALLOW is beautifully shot, creating a sharp, clinical edge that makes the luxurious world Hunter inhabits somehow fraught with danger. Tell us how you approached the design and look of the film?

So thrilled you feel that way! I was extremely fortunate to have an incredible, imaginative, devoted design team. Our visionary cinematographer, Kate Arizmendi, our inspired production designer, Erin Magill, and our amazing costume designer, Liene Dobraja, evoked Hunter’s world with such detail and subtext. In order to Illustrate Hunter’s psychological movement, Kate and I developed a rigid visual vernacular, a strict set of camera direction rules that we broke at key emotional moments. Kate had the idea to shoot the film with Master Prime lenses because, as she put it, “Pica is all about textures”, and the Master Primes allowed her to illustrate the textures of Hunter’s world in mystical detail. In a film that’s all about little objects and the tyranny of environments, Erin Magill brought such specificity of space and vibrant color to Hunter’s world. And Liene, who is so good with expressing the characters’ inner cosmology through what they wear, created a wonderful wardrobe journey for Hunter. We wanted Swallow to take place in a stylized world that became more and more realistic as the film progressed in order to reflect Hunter’s growing psychological clarity. Like a perfect pane of glass with a crack slowly forming in it.

Research has shown that more children are swallowing objects than ever before and that adult cases are on the rise too. Why do you think that is?

Interesting question. We are living in a world that is becoming increasingly chaotic and because of that, I think rituals of control are on the rise.

While I’m not a mental health professional, I believe OCD, eating disorders, cutting, all these rituals of control can often be related to past trauma or situations that people feel powerless in. We very much consider Swallow to be a feminist film, and in America, there’s no denying that a certain kind of old-world patriarchy has become newly emboldened.

With the Trump presidency, we’ve seen a reinforcing of patriarchal paradigms, a silencing of dissenting voices, and a rollback of reproductive rights.

We are also fortunate to be living in a time where there are many powerful new voices and activists fighting back; more films directed by female filmmakers, and more films with female main characters that explore these issues. I hope Swallow is one of those voices of change, and I hope it raises awareness and makes people feel seen and less alone.

Do you think horror films can help us deal with and understand troubling and mentally-challenging issues?

I do. Fear is the oldest emotion, the first emotion. To paraphrase Rainer Werner Fassbinder, “Fear eats the soul”. I think horror movies are a powerful tool which allows viewers to manifest their fears in a safe environment, a communal environment. Once those fears are manifested on the crucible of the screen, they can be experienced and processed in a way that facilitates catharsis for the viewer, providing a greater understanding of what they’re frightened of and why. Once we understand our fears and what drives them, we can emancipate ourselves from a cycle of terror and anxiety. We are fortunate to be in a new renaissance of horror with incredible, personal, socially relevant films like Get Out, Babadook, and Hereditary. Because horror is a genre that is inherently extreme and uncomfortable, I do agree that horror has the hardwired capacity to take on challenging topics. As a lifelong horror fan, I truly believe that powerful, thoughtful horror movies can change the world for the better.

Do you have an affinity to the genre?

Yes! I’ve been horror fan my entire life. When I was six years old, I begged my parents to rent a horror movie for my birthday, and they obliged with a delightful screening of The Blob. Swallow has many little horror film references within it. For example, when Hunter puts the red gels on the window, another Erin Magill innovation, it’s a direct homage to the glorious colors in Argento’s 1977 Suspiria. My fantastic, passionate, inspiring editor, Joe Murphy, and I, bonded over our mutual love of unusual, obscure, art horror films.

Finally, we hear your next film is going to be a supernatural horror. Can you reveal a few details?

I’m working on a feminist supernatural horror movie, among other scripts, but I can’t reveal the contents at this time.

SWALLOW is screening at 6.15pm at Cineworld, Leicester Sq. on Sat 2 Nov, as part of the Arrow Video FrightFest Halloween all-dayer.

www.frightfest.co.uk

The Night of the Virgin (2016)

Nico, a naive 20yr old man, sets out on New Year’s Eve to lose his virginity. He comes across a mature woman called Medea, who invites him back to her apartment. What follows is a night Nico will never forget….if he lives to remember it.

From the big lettered opening title, this has a real late 80’s midnight movie feel to it. It doesn’t take long for the craziness to start and once it does, it doesn’t let up. I’ve heard a few liken this to early Peter Jackson’s work, and I am inclined to agree. Blood and other bodily fluids hit the screen with wild abandon.

Javier Bódalo who plays Nico has a great geeky quality that makes you root for him and will him to survive. He’s like a Spanish McLovin, someone who has a exudes an inner confidence that his outer appearance doesn’t live up to.

Destined for cult status, The Night of the Virgin is a great gore filled horror to watch on a Friday night, post pub and pre takeaway. Its one I definitely recommend.

4/5

JM

Modus (TV Series) (2015)

The Scandinavians do it again. Seriously. Very rarely have I watched  a programme from Sweden or Denmark where I have been bored or found the story uninteresting. Detective Ingvar Nyman is sent to Uppsala to investigate the grisly murder or a bishop. Teaming up with a psychologist, they seek to uncover just why people are turning up dead in some very strange circumstances. 

There are gruesome scenes which may not be for the squeamish, but this series is never gratuitous. It’s superbly acted and the story is gripping. It’s mostly subtitled, but there is quite a bit of English speaking in it too for those that have an allergic reaction to reading subtitles. Seriously folks, you’re missing out on some gems if you refuse to watch movies or programmes with subtitles. 

The cast do a very good job in keeping you engaged, and play their parts to perfection. I really hope that there is more of this to come. MODUS  is released on Blu-ray & DVD on Monday 19th December by Nordic Noir & Beyond.

Modus is definitely a series that you need to give your time to. Very impressed. 

5/5

JM

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

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We can thank writer Seth Grahame-Smith for mashing up Jane Austen’s classic ‘Pride and Prejudice’ with the undead. It’s something that shouldn’t really work, as it’s two wildly different ideas being melded together. That said, it does work, and work quite well.

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The story really is just the standard tale of love between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, with hordes of the shuffling undead thrown in. Lily James is fantastic as Elizabeth, really getting into the fights, with the dashing Sam Riley playing Mr. Darcy, fighting by her side. Director Burr Steers said that most people couldn’t really figure out how to film the movie as they weren’t sure what direction to take it in. Burr Steers said he took the job because he was just going to film it like he would if it didn’t have zombies in it. Everyone plays it so straight and it makes it a very funny movie because of it.

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The gore is not bad, not as gory as I was expecting, considering we have flesh eating zombies on the prowl. The fight choreography is very well put together, and everybody seems to be throwing themselves into their roles. The supporting cast of Lena Headey, Charles Dance, Jack Huston and even Doctor Who actor Matt Smith are all cast brilliantly in their respective roles.

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The film does lag in the third act, which I was a little disappointed about, as that is exactly when it should be firing on all cylinders. The movie is released on Blu Ray and DVD on 27th June.

3/5

JM

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Manhattan Baby (1982)


When an archaeologist, Dr. George Hacker (Christopher Connelly) opens a tomb in Egypt, he unleashes an evil spirit which latches onto his young daughter. Upon the family’s arrival in New York, a series of grisly murders and strange occurrences begin to take place. 

An amulet which is give to the young girl may hold the secret to the identity of the spirit and how the family can free themselves from its clutches. This is certainly a strange movie, and it looks very dated. The effects are certainly ropey in places, which I believe was down to the production company not getting all of the budget they requested. 


Lucio Fulci had a good few movies out during the 80’s and a lot of them are cult classics like The Beyond, The New York Ripper and Zombie Flesh Eaters to name but a few. Sadly this is not up there with his greatest hits. That’s not to say it isn’t entertaining, because it is, but it’s just not as memorable. It’s nice to see Lucio Fulci use proper locations to tell the story, rather than wooden sets, and the cast give 100% in every scene.   

There is some decent gore on offer, one place where Fulci has always delivered in my humble opinion. I did notice that it stars that annoying blonde kid from Fulci’s other great horror ‘The House by the Cemetery’, and he has an encounter with some scorpions which was hilarious to watch. There is a lot to like about these Italian horrors though. I love the dodgy dubbing over each actors original voice, and the hammy acting on display always makes things fun to watch. The effects are fun too, like the dodgy stuffed birds dangling on wires. 


Manhattan Baby is certainly worth a watch for fans of Lucio Fulci’s work, but it’s sure to divide those that love his other movies. Manhattan Baby is available now on DVD from the fine folks over at Shameless Screen Entertainment:

http://www.shameless-films.com/shop/Manhattan-Baby.html

3/5

JM

Rat Man (1988)

  
When a pretty model is found dead on an island, her body mutilated, an investigation begins in to just what happened. The deceased model’s sister arrives with a mystery novel writer (David Warbeck), to try and figure out what was the cause of her sisters murder. The duo discover that the explanation is far more bizarre than they ever could have realised. 

A scientist has created a rat/monkey hybrid, for reasons unknown, though he does mention a Nobel peace prize at one point. The hybrid played by Nelson de la Rosa (The Island of Dr. Moreau), has developed murderous tendencies and decides he doesn’t like being caged up anymore. 

  
This movie is straight up trash and I loved it. I’ve always had a soft spot for David Warbeck as he’s always given 100% no matter what the role or how strange the movie is. He kind of downplays it a tad here, but he’s still the sort of hero he played in The Beyond. The plot dithers about and feels patchy and incoherent in places, but I feel it adds to the charm. I mean when the tag line reads ‘He’s the critter from the shitter’ I think it’s safe to say you know what sort of movie you’re getting. 

  
Nelson de la Rosa seems to enjoy his role as the carnivorous Rat Man, particularly as he gets close to some scantily clad women, and if you’ve seen the documentary about the making of ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’ then you know he’s quite fond of the ladies. 

    

The acting is atrocious in places, but if you’re a fan of trashy movies then that really won’t be an issue to you. These sort of horror movies have never really attempted to wow you with their acting, preferring to throw blood and naked women in your direction instead and hope that it keeps your attention. Fans of cheap Italian horror will find a lot to like here, and David Warbeck is always good value. The supporting cast are not the best, but they make do. 

  
Shameless Screen Entertainment have released the movie uncut for the first time ever in the U.K, and the film is presented in 16.9 anamorphic widescreen. The film is available to purchase now directly from the Shameless website via the following link:

http://www.shameless-films.com/shop/Ratman.html

I’d like to thank Shameless for providing me with the movie for review. 

3/5

JM

  

The House on the Edge of the Park (1980)

  
A woman is brutally raped and killed by psychotic Alex (David Hess) late one night. Afterwards he returns to work at a garage where his simple friend Ricky (Giovanni Radice) also works. When a young well to do couple come into the garage asking for help fixing their car and say that they’re going to a friends party, it kick starts a chain of events resulting in brutal murder and unparalleled mayhem. 

  
Ruggero Deodato was really at the height of his fame when he made this brilliantly sleazy movie. Ricky is easily led by the brutal Alex, as he just isn’t that bright, but still has (very) small elements of good in him. Alex however is just pure evil, resorting to satisfying his wildest urges, no matter how depraved. The group having the party are really put through the ringer, and you wonder just what will happen next. 

  
David Hess just really recycles his role from ‘Last House on the Left’, and it’s not really a far cry from many of the roles he played during his career. The makers of this movie were so desperate to have him on board that they actually gave him half the rights to the film. Giovanni Radice plays the part of the simple Ricky very well. With limited intelligence you can see he doesn’t really understand at first the magnitude of his actions, and you feel that he’s mostly doing it to impress Alex. There is a lot of nudity, some full frontal, and the violence is quite brutal. If that’s not your thing then it’s best to avoid this movie. Then again if you’re reading reviews about this movie, it’s probably safe to say that it intrigues you somewhat, and if so then I would say you should give it a go. 

  
The film is over 35 years old, so it is very dated in parts, particularly the fashion, but the content on show still manages to pack a punch. The violence, a lot of it of a sexual nature, is very near the knuckle. The acting on show really is top quality, and really helps in keeping you gripped to the end. 

Thank you to Shameless Screen Entertainment for letting me review this movie. It’s available now from their site via the following link:

http://www.shameless-films.com/shop/House-On-The-Edge-Of-The-Park.html

4/5

JM

  

Trapped (TV Series) (2015)

  
Synopsis from the Arrow Films website:

“As a ferry carrying 300 passengers from Denmark pulls into an Icelandic town s small port, heavy snow begins to fall. The ferry can t leave until the storm passes and the main road into town is impassable. A mutilated and dismembered body washes on the shore, an unidentifiable man murdered only hours ago. The local police chief, Andri Ólafssun, whose personal life is in shatters, realises a killer has descended into his town. As word spreads, order disintegrates into chaos as the ferry’s passengers and the town’s residents realise they are all possible suspects and that a killer is trapped among them.”

That does a much better job of describing this stunning series than I ever could. When we meet Chief Ólafssun he is already someone you can wholly sympathise and identify with. He’s an everyday sort of person who finds himself up against a cunning killer when he is already himself at breaking point. With his trusty colleagues, they begin to piece together the events that lead to the grisly murder, but there are lots of surprises and red herrings along the way. Each episode leaves you wanting more, and you may find that you binge through episodes before deciding to take a break, it’s that good. 

 
Ólafur Darri Ólafassun who plays the put upon Chief Ólafassun really makes you warm to him. Eagle eyed viewers may remember him from ‘A Walk Among The Tombstones’ of which he had a brief but memorable role. Scandinavia has really been on a solid run with the thrilling dramas it has been releasing of late. The Killing, Borgen, The Bridge and Those Who Kill all show why audiences are so drawn to the sterling drama on offer. Each series that has come out of Scandinavia has hooked people because of the great writing, fully rounded characters and thrills that are on offer. 

 
The supporting cast all deliver and help in fleshing out a gripping piece of television. The scenery is breathtaking too, with the mountains and the unrelenting snow really making you feel glad to be warm indoors. I love watching TV series such as ‘Trapped’ which keep you gripped and don’t give too much away in each episode.

 
I’m really looking forward to seeing what is in store for a second series of ‘Trapped’ should they decide to make one. TRAPPED is released on Monday 11th April by Nordic Noir & Beyond, and is available to pre order now from the following link:

http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk/shop/index.php?route=product/product&keyword=trappe&product_id=710%22

It really is a top series and one I highly recommend. 

5/5

JM

  

Dream Home (2010)

  
Cheng Lai-Sheung (Josie Ho) has long dreamed of an apartment with a harbour view. All her life she has saved her money to afford the apartment. However just as her dream home is within her grasp, the owners pull out of the deal and the sale falls through. Now, desperate to own the apartment at any cost, Cheng will do whatever it takes to see her dream become a reality…..even kill for it. 

  

The story that is laid out paints a brutal picture of what life is like when trying to get on the property ladder in Hong Kong. Rent is astronomical and it can be hard to make ends meet. As Cheng Lai is going about her life, working two part time jobs and sleeping with a married man, we are shown flashbacks to when she was younger. The flashbacks work well as they help the viewer understand just how deep Cheng Lai’s desire for a new home goes, and the reasons why she craves it so. You can almost sympathise with Cheng Lai…almost. 

  
Once the blood flows, it doesn’t stop. The kills are gruesome and disturbing. There is some dark humour thrown in too, which tries to lighten the mood, but kind of nullifies the impact of the killings, and doesn’t really belong in the film. Josie Ho is fantastic as Cheng Lai, really getting into her character. The supporting cast are okay, but never linger long enough to really make an impact. This movie really is Josie Ho’s. 

  
The beginning of the movie tells us that it’s based on a true story, but I couldn’t find anything that gave that claim any weight. If it is based on a true story then it robs the movie of any real ending or sense of closure. Impressive gore and fantastic acting from Josie Ho definitely means you should check this out. 

4/5

JM

  

Stung (2015)

  
Julie (Jessica Cook) and Paul (Matt O’Leary) are on their way out to the American countryside to cater a fancy party. However things take a turn for the sinister when a wasp nest is disturbed and the partygoers are set upon by giant mutated wasps. 

  
The wasps tear through the party, forcing some to retreat to the house in a desperate fight for their lives. Lance Henriksen plays the Mayor, Carruthers and the home owner is played by Clifton Collins Jr. The practical effects and gore are done very well. There is mild CGI, but this is a film that understands its core audience and also pays homage to the horror films of the 80’s, so the CGI is used sparingly and mainly just to show the wasps flying. 

  
More of a horror comedy, than a straight horror, there are some laugh out loud moments, particularly from Henriksen who seems to be enjoying himself. Some may recognise Matt O’Leary from another one of my favourite horrors ‘Frailty’. He plays the part of the reluctant hero quite well, and throws himself into the role. Jessica Cook is okay, but just feels like the generic damsel in distress, despite the films best efforts to make her appear otherwise. Clifton Collins Jr. is great as the hunchbacked Sydney, the homeowner with a dark secret. He seems to be able to slip into any role with ease and I’m always pleased to see him on screen. 

  
Lovers of old school horror comedy will find plenty to like here, however it’s not hard to see why this has gone straight to DVD here in the UK, as it lacks in places. That said I still recommend you give it a watch as it’s perfect beer and pizza entertainment. This copy of Stung was generously provided by the folks over at http://www.fetch.fm, and is available to pre order now with a release of October 26th….just in time for Halloween. 

  

3/5

JM