SWALLOWED Review: Body Horror Transforms Into Survival Horror
Directed by Carter Smith, the LGTBQIA+ horror thriller stars Jena Malone, Mark Patton, Cooper Koch and Jose Colon.
Benjamin and Dom are close friends, spending their last night together, celebrating before Benjamin heads to the coast to become a gay adult entertainer.
What about Dom? Well, Dom may have deeper feelings for his friend, which is why he wants to help Benjamin by getting some quick cash smuggling drugs back across the border on their way home that night.
They meet Alice at the pick-up point and things head south real quick. She’s a super aggressive bitch and forces Dom, at gunpoint, to swallow several small bags of drugs.
They’re to drive across the border and meet her at a rest stop, where Dom will expel the drugs sitting in his guts. If holding bags of drugs in your bowels was not bad enough, a bad run-in at the rest stop accelerates the timeline. A precarious situation, at best, becomes increasingly dangerous with every moment that passes.
Swallowed starts off as a body horror, then switches gears into survival horror. It is a horror film that is ruled by its villains. Jenna Malone is an absolute menace as Alice, running on pure aggression. Then when Mark Patton arrives on the scene he starts some serious stealing as the villain, a self proclaimed queen and drug dealer called Rich. He’s come to collect his product and while he’s there he might as well enjoy the company of such fine, young men.
Let this not take away from the work of Cooper Koch and Jose Colon, which is where the film finds its sensuality and intimacy. First they’re presented as friends, then as something more, as Dom’s health worsens and Benjamin faces off against his aggressors. Writer/director Carter Smith (The Ruins) does make time for the friends to discover that there are deeper feelings than just friendship here.
The body horror in Swallowed is a different kind of disturbing, because, well, you have to get the drugs out of Dom somehow. It’s not for the squeamish. Neither is the discovery of the true nature of the drug in the baggies, which adds a frightening element to the urgency Benjamin and Dom face. Credit Dan Martin’s special effects work in upping the creep factor here. Interestingly, writer/director Carter Smith doesn’t go for money shots, largely insinuating most of the action and horror throughout his film.
The film is shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio. It is an interesting choice, not just stylistically, but we figure it simply draws everyone in closer together. There is no space between the hostility when your blocking has to be so close together to fit within the smaller frame. Good choice.
I was a little put off with the end credits, parallel cut the way they were. Smith finishes his story with a quiet, sad and intimate moment between Benjamin and Dom, and fades to black. Then the credits are cut with Benjamin being interviewed by drag queen Thee Suburbia, at an illustrious event. He’s obviously made it to the West coast.
We can only guess as to what Carter Smith's intentions were. Has Benjamin completely moved on? Benjamin thanks “everyone that got him there” - who is that directed at? We can only imagine that you wouldn't forget a day like he and Dom had. In light of everything that happened in this story, how intense it was, we hope Smith didn’t feel he had to do something brighter after the story ended. It’s just a weird tonal shift after everything that has happened.
Swallowed is awesome counter-programming to bro horror and its “let's show t&a every chance we can get” inclinations. We’re not saying it's about time we got lots of male full frontal nudity in a horror flick, but it’s hard to ignore the side effects to the drugs Dom has swallowed.
It remains a strong entry into for LGBTQ+ horror genre this year. Every film festival should already be clamoring to book Swallowed, but especially any LGBTQ+ film festival looking for midnighter programming.
Review originally published during the Overlook Film Festival in June 2022. The film is now available on VOD and on Digital platforms.
- Carter Smith
- Carter Smith
- Jena Malone
- Mark Patton
- Cooper Koch