For Mirabella-Davis, Hunter's tale is a riff on a personal one. His grandmother was, by his description, a homemaker in an unhappy marriage who developed "rituals of control," including obsessive handwashing. "[She] would go through four bars of soap a day and 12 bottles of rubbing alcohol a week," he says. His grandfather had her committed to a mental institution, where she was given electroshock therapy, insulin shock therapy, and a lobotomy. "I always thought there was something punitive about it, that she was being punished in a way for not living up to society's expectations of what a wife or a mother should be," Mirabella-Davis explains. "But as I was adapting the story, I realized handwashing is not very cinematic."
Eventually, he came across a picture of the contents of someone's stomach who suffered from pica, the eating disorder that Hunter has. "They were fanned out in this beautiful array, kind of like an archaeological dig," Mirabella-Davis says. "And I was fascinated and I wanted to know what drew the patient to them. It almost seemed like Holy Communion or something mystical."
When Haley as Hunter swallows an item and cinematographer Katelin Arizmendi closes the camera in on her face, there's a sense of relief mixed in with her pain. "I think with each object there's a different experience," Mirabella-Davis says. "The marble has something prismatic about it. There's something magical. It recalls maybe a happier time in your childhood." The thumbtack, Bennett says, turns into a "dangerous liaison." The director reached out to Dr. Rachel Bryant-Waugh, a clinical psychologist with a specialty in treating eating disorders, to read the script. She wrote an evaluation of Hunter as if she were a patient, and was ultimately a consultant on the project.