I don’t talk about it as often as I should, but my skincare obsession began as an attempt to curb a different type of obsession. Dermatillomania, also known as excoriation disorder, is defined by the DSM as “a disorder of impulse control characterized by the urge to pick at the skin, even to the extent that damage is caused.” In college, I would sometimes make myself late for class by spending 3 hours in the mirror “cleaning the dirt from my pores” (as I told myself). Like most people with the disorder, I hated what I was doing to myself but no therapist, medication, or mindfulness exercise made a dent in my behavior. A few years ago after treating myself to one of the best facials ever as a birthday gift to myself, a lightbulb went on: I could go a few days without picking my skin after a facial because during that time there was nothing to pick. Once I figured this out, I embarked on my quest to rid my skin of what I’d call its problematic texture. Heavy moisturizers, regular face masks, and weekly chemical exfoliation have proven miraculous in my “recovery.” I put “recovery” in quotes because I’m not perfect. I still stumble sometimes and consider it a good month if it ends with less than 3 scabs on my face. I’m telling you my story as a precursor to my review of Swallow because I want you to know that I speak from experience when I say director Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ portrayal of pica as a body-focused repetitive behavior (as opposed to an eating disorder, which would have been the trite, obvious choice) makes Swallow one of those rare, beautiful films that successfully presents a struggle for self-agency as the etiology of an impulse control disorder. Swallow follows Hunter (Haley Bennett), a soft-spoken twentysomething newlywed dressed like a 1950s housewife, as she tiptoes around a large empty mansion painted in saturated pink hues. From the opening scene’s closeup of her carefully coiffed blonde bob (a hairstyle that doesn’t go over well, as we’ll soon find out), we get the impression Hunter’s every movement is part of a carefully crafted mask. In a telling scene with her mother-in-law (Elizabeth Marvel), we learn that Hunter is an artist with low self-esteem who insists she’s happy to leave career aspirations behind because “nobody would have hired me anyway.” Every modern artist who has ever worked a mind-numbing 9 to 5 dreams of being gifted the time and resources to pursue their art full time. In Hunter’s situation, the extent of her creative freedom is limited to choosing curtain colors (and even this small choice provokes a snarky reply from her husband Richie Conrad, played by Austin Stowell). By the time Hunter swallows that first marble, prompted by a self-help book encouraging spontaneity, I found myself wondering how she held out for so long. For realism’s sake, one can cite studies linking...

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