PLOT: Follows two best friends on their final night together, with a nightmare of drugs, bugs, and horrific intimacy.
REVIEW: As part of Fantasia’s 2022 film lineup (specifically its spotlight on Queer Genre Cinema), Swallowed is LGBT horror in every sense of the term. Every aspect of the film deals with the struggles of being a gay man. Whether it’s in interactions with ancillary characters or the overt tension between the two leads, the film clearly knows what it’s doing, with dark consequences for every decision made.
Cooper Koch stars as Ben, who’s off to Los Angeles to star in porn. Jose Colon makes his film debut as Dom, Ben’s best friend who just wants to help him succeed. Dom is provided with the opportunity to earn a little extra cash by smuggling what he thinks are drugs across the border. Unfortunately for both of them, it ends up being something much more… creepy-crawly.
The dynamic between Ben and Dom is one of the more interesting aspects at play here. While Ben is clearly gay, Dom claims he’s straight, despite the rising sexual tension going on between them. There’s an interesting back and forth between them throughout. It culminates in a scene where one of them has to…extract something from the other person. It’s really brilliantly put together because, under different circumstances, it could easily be construed as a sex scene. But its actual context is much more disturbing. Jena Malone shows up in a fun role. She’s a little hammy, but it works given there’s something not quite right about her character. She’s untrustworthy and causes more problems than she solves, but she definitely makes for an interesting part of the story.
I was absurdly excited to see Mark Patton show up as the villain. He never really got a fair shake with his role in Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, so I’m glad he’s undergoing a bit of a resurgence as of late. His villain is a bit over the top, but it works well given the LGBT themes of the story. Patton fully embodies this flamboyant psychopath and he’s a real standout, both in performance and character.
Despite the film having a main plot point surrounding drug running, there’s very little tension in whether they’ll get caught. This feels like a bit of a missed opportunity, as the actual border aspect is mostly glossed over. But even still, the movie is absolutely rife with tension. This is body horror but it’s not anything overt in an effects-heavy way. Almost everything is achieved through the performances, the sound design, and the tension. As someone who suffers from stomach problems, a movie about guys having to swallow drugs that turn out to be more devious than originally thought, was rough going for me. It absolutely tapped into some of my most primal fears and found myself absurdly anxious throughout.
I’ve always really impressed with aspects of 2008’s The Ruins, so it’s nice to see Carter Smith come into his own here. Writing and directing the film, he really brings his A game, providing a tightly wound film teeming full of tension. He even decided to present the film in Fullscreen, which honestly works well for the presentation. Unfortunately, I just wish the film had gone further with the body horror aspect. Because while the first viewing may have been rife with tension, I’m not sure a repeat viewing would hold up in the same way. The payoffs just aren’t entirely satisfying enough, with the bugs being one of the more disappointing aspects. Although, the final shot is absolutely brilliant.
Swallowed is an extremely uncomfortable watch but it’s definitely worth the 90 minutes; especially if you’re a fan of LGBT horror. While I may not have been its target audience, I found the film to be a fascinating character piece that featured many great “gross-out” moments. It won’t be for everyone, but if you can stomach the disturbing aspects, it’s more than worth it.
Swallowed is currently screening at the 2022 Fantasia Film Festival.