Swallowed had its world premiere at Overlook Film Festival and does not currently have a wide release date.
When movies like Carter Smith’s Swallowed tease “body horror,” the first instincts often take on something Cronenbergian or mutated, like Brian Yuzna’s Society. What Smith reminds us is that our bodies can be subject to much more ordinary horrors, and those are subjective scenarios that some even choose. Swallowed features digestive horrors as in Angus Sampson and Tony Mahony’s drug thriller The Mule of Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ Swallow – very awkward, highly recognizable gastro gross-outs. Nothing too complicated, as Smith uses chemistry and biology to remind us of our physical vulnerability, both smart and limiting to the public.
Swallowed follows Dom (Jose Colon) and Benjamin (Cooper Koch) on Benjamin’s last hurray before becoming gay pornstars in Los Angeles. Jose Colon and Cooper Koch play their part as flirtatious and adoring friends who have never crossed the barrier in relationship territory – Dom just wants to give Benjamin a parting gift. Enter Alice (Jena Malone), the powerful drug trafficker who forces Dom and Benjamin to take bags of narcotics. The duo await payday as they cross the Maine-Canada border with undamaged and well-cleaned products, but nothing is ever so easy.
With an emphasis on queer horror – Smith previously directed Into the Dark’s gay slasher Midnight Kiss – Swallowed emphasizes modern anxieties to accentuate the darkest moments. Dom and Benjamin should easily run for a cash reward, but it’s the actions of a bigoted redneck in a resting place that cause immediate danger. It’s an unnecessary altercation with outsiders, except Smith Swallowed’s screenplay clearly points in the direction of socially conscious horrors with uncomplicated authenticity. Smith inspires empathy by inviting viewers into the anxious paranoias of gay men or women in red-colored America, proving that even the most “disapproving” act of hate still does irreparable damage.
As the night wears on, so do the conflicts, both in Dom’s stomach and between friendships through unspoken adoration. Swallowed presents exactly what it promises in the title, with the stretchy pouches that go in – and the slimy, discharge-covered products that come out. Colon’s sheer performance is filled with pain, lingering erections, and unknown substances bubbling within. Koch plays helpless and emphatically concerned with this glassy remorse about the possible cause of the situation, and it’s the two protagonists who continue this without frills with suspenseful intrigue.
However, there is a general feeling that while Swallowed succeeds in its minimalist designs, it is largely just a “good” experience. What can go wrong goes wrong without much of Smith’s creative excesses, save for a few unexpected twists in secreted pockets. Jena Malone’s menacing dealer isn’t used beyond the generic’s abilities, and while homophobia plays a major role in endangering what could be just another drug gang, Smith’s screenplay is still tonally one-dimensional. Those looking for something a little more wild, perhaps with more energy, will be impressed by Swallowed.
More favorably, actor Mark Patton – who disappeared from Hollywood after A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge and his overt homosexuality – steps in when the antagonist Smith’s third act comes in. He is allowed to embrace his sexuality in a hostile capacity, playing with Dom and Benjamin because they are still withholding his products. Smith elaborates on the idea that representational storytelling isn’t just about portraying queer characters as victims. Patton’s head honcho hunts down the tough Benjamin, both imaginatively and physically, stripping the much younger man in an uneasy predatory capacity. Swallowed accomplishes its goal of showing gay characters that can of course be written in many ways, as indie production is clearly at the forefront of queer horror cinema.