Swallowed had its world premiere at Overlook Film Festival, and currently doesn’t have a wide release date.
When movies like Carter Smith’s Swallowed tease “body horror,” first instincts often assume something Cronenbergian or mutated like Brian Yuzna’s Society. What Smith reminds us is our bodies can be subject to horrors far more ordinary, which are subjectable scenarios some even choose. Swallowed incorporates digestive horrors like in Angus Sampson and Tony Mahony’s drug-running thriller The Mule or Carlo Mirabella-Davis’s Swallow — very uncomfortable, very recognizable gastro gross-outs. There’s nothing overly complicated since Smith uses chemistry and biology to remind us of our bodily fragility, both clever and limiting for audiences.
Swallowed follows Dom (Jose Colon) and Benjamin (Cooper Koch) on Benjamin’s last hurrah before becoming a gay porn star in Los Angeles. Jose Colon and Cooper Koch play their parts as flirty and adoring friends who’ve never crossed the barrier into relationship territory — Dom just wants to give Benjamin a going away present. Enter Alice (Jena Malone), the forceful drug examiner who forces Dom then Benjamin to ingest baggies of some narcotic. A payday awaits the duo should they cross the Maine/Canada border with products undamaged and properly cleaned, but nothing is ever that easy..
With a stress on queer horror — Smith previously directed Into the Dark’s gay slasher Midnight Kiss — Swallowed emphasizes modern fears to accentuate its darkest moments. Dom and Benjamin should easily coast towards a cash reward, but it’s the actions of a bigoted redneck in a reststop bathroom that causes immediate danger. It’s an unnecessary altercation to outsiders, except Smith’s screenplay plainly gears Swallowed towards socially conscious horrors with straightforward authenticity. Smith generates empathy by inviting viewers into the anxious paranoias of gay men or women within red-colored America, proving even the most “dismissable” act of hatred still causes irrepairable damage.
As the night unfolds, so do conflicts both inside Dom’s stomach and between friendships through unspoken adoration. Swallowed presents exactly what it promises in its title’s regard, showing the elastic pouches going in — and the slimy, discharge-covered deliverables coming out. Colon’s bare-all performance is filled with agony, sustained erections, and unknown substances churing within. Koch plays helpless and expressively worried with this glaze of remorse over possibly causing the situation, and it’s the two leads who keep this otherwise no-frills story moving forward with suspenseful intrigue.
Although, there’s an overall sensation that while Swallowed succeeds in its minimalist designs it’s largely just an “okay” experience. What can go wrong will go wrong without many creative flourishes from Smith beyond a few unexpected wriggles within excreted sacks. Jena Malone’s threatening dealer isn’t used beyond generic capacities, and while homophobia plays an important part in endangering what could be just another drug run, Smith’s screenplay is still tonally one-dimensional throughout. Those searching for something wilder, perhaps with more energy, will be underwhelmed by Swallowed.
More favorably, actor Mark Patton — who disappeared from Hollywood after A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge and his outed homosexuality — steps in as the antagonist come Smith’s third act. He’s allowed to embrace his sexuality in an antagonistic capacity, toying with Dom and Benjamin since they’re still withholding his products. Smith elaborates on the idea that representative storytelling isn’t just about depicting queer character as victims. Patton’s head honcho preys upon the hardbodied Benjamin, both imaginatively and physically undressing the much younger man in an uncomfortable predatory capacity. Swallowed accomplishes the objective of showing gay characters can be written naturally many ways, as the indie production positions squarely on the forefront of queer horror cinema.