Written and directed by Carter Smith.
With Jena Malone, Cooper Koch, Mark Patton and José Colon.
Follows two best friends on their last night together, with a nightmare of drugs, bugs and horrific intimacy.
Carter Smith (The ruins, Jamie Marks is dead) third movie Swallowed is difficult to categorize in the most exciting way and, honestly, it might be best for an open-minded audience to witness for themselves, as free from outside influences as possible.
If you’re still with me, however, Smith presents a singular take on the body horror genre filtered through a distinct and deeply felt LGBTQ+ lens. Its heavy, unpredictable, and genre-melding narrative won’t suit all tastes, but those willing to follow Smith and his game thrown down that slimy rabbit hole will be rewarded with a highly original effort.
Ben (Cooper Koch) is a young man who moves to Los Angeles hoping to become a porn star, and in order to send him off with a big wad of cash, his buddy Dom (Jose Colon) has arranged for the couple to transport high-priced drugs across the border at the behest of trafficker Alice (Jena Malone). Typically, Dom and Ben have to ingest the drugs in order to conceal them from border agents, but it turns out the drugs aren’t quite what they expected, and retrieving them at the other end doesn’t will not be so simple.
Whether Swallowed Apparently starting out as a relatively familiar drug movie, it’s not long before Smith totally upends our expectations of such a story, between a disturbing body-horror aspect and an ostensibly weird perspective. Without giving too much away, the things in Dom and Ben’s stomachs begin to cause intense digestive distress quite early on, much like the squirmy-inducing aftermath on screen.
There is also a clear desire on Smith’s part to display the naked male body in unexpected ways; frontal nudity frequently abounds, both horribly distressed and beautiful, but never for a gay panic laugh as is so often the case in Hollywood. And then there’s the prominent queer overintensity; it’s clear from the start that Dom has feelings for Ben’s departure, while Alice’s drug kingpin Rich is a goofy middle-aged man played with theatrical relish by the great Mark Patton. (of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge fame).
It all adds up to consistently quirky work that eschews much of the overt supernatural horror in favor of something far more grounded and plausible. The climax feels perhaps a A little overextended once its point is made, but that does little to undermine a bold and fearless entry into an often fetishistic subgenre concerned with macabre destruction above all else.
The cast also deserves major credit for bringing Smith’s shrewd vision to fruition; newcomers Cooper Koch and Jose Colon (who has no other credits to his name) are easily likable as our two digestion-beleaguered leads, and it doesn’t take much audience effort to fully support their increasingly grim struggle to survive. The always-awesome Jena Malone is also perfectly cast as the surly trafficker whose characterization turns out to be more complex than it first appears, and once again Mark Patton is clearly having fun playing the pivot (or center pivot ?) Rich. His coasting performance lands just on the right side of camp without detracting from the “seriousness” of the play.
The techniques are also rock solid; Smith chose to shoot the film in a square 4:3 aspect ratio that emphasizes the confinement of the protagonists, while Christopher Bear’s heart-pounding synth score ties the visuals together with aplomb. Endlessly disarming in its undulating unpredictability, Swallowed offers a new take on body horror that considers human frailty from a most unusual angle.
Scintillating Myth Rating – Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more cinematic rides.