[Review] SWALLOW [Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival]: A Vain Actress Learns a Shocking Beauty Secret in Atmospheric Horror Short

Competition in the acting business can be a cutthroat affair, and the lengths to which some people will go to have an edge on their rivals is the subject of writer/director Mai Nakanishi’s Taiwan/Japan coproduction Swallow. This unnerving horror short oozes eerie atmosphere and boasts terrific performances.

Actors Xue-Lan (Yu-Chen He of Paradoxical; 2017) and Mimi (Ning Han of current Netflix horror series Detention) compete for the same parts, with the former scoring the bigger roles. Mimi has an advantage over her frenemy, though — she has seemingly barely aged in the 10 years they have known each other. When Xue-Lan begs Mimi to let her in on her beauty secret, Mimi brings her to a private and highly unusual dinner party. 

Seasoned fear-fare viewers might take a guess at what happens at the affair, but Nakanishi takes things to unusual places, and satisfyingly so. In her sophomore turn at the helm, following her gripping 2018 short Hana (reviewed here), she crafts a goosebump-inducing occult film that she also edits marvelously.

The cast members all give fine performances, with He nailing the arrogance and vanity of her character and Han investing hers with a more demure manner. Vera Chen (The Rope Curse 2; 2020) gives a terrific supporting turn as Annie, the mysterious hostess of the dinner soirée.

The color palette of the dining scene is simple yet elegant and stunning, with white crockery and black dresses playing against the crimson decor of the room and its lighting. Shots of steak being cut early on usher in a sense of unease that only grows as the short plays on. Tzu-Yang Wei’s cinematography captures everything wonderfully, while Chase-Young Yoon’s classical score fits the proceedings marvelously. IF SFX Art Maker, the team behind Taiwanese zombie shocker The Sadness, provides some creepy special f/x makeup work.

Nakanishi is a horror director to watch as she continues her career. Hana is currently in development as a feature project, and the supernatural world of Swallow is ripe for being turned into a full-length film, as well.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Swallow screens as part of Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, which takes place July 7–17, 2022 in Bucheon, South Korea. For more information, visit here .

The short, which won a Special Mention Award at this year’s Tampere Film Festival in Finland, will also screen at Fresh Wave International Film Festival in Hong Kong (June 17–July 17) and will have its Japanese premiere at Skip City International Film Festival (July 16–24).

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.