Written and directed by Carter Smith.
Starring Jena Malone, Cooper Koch, Mark Patton and José Colón.
Follow two best friends on their last night together, with a nightmare of drugs, bugs, and horrible intimacy.
Carter-Smith (The ruins, Jamie Marks is dead) third film Swallowed it’s hard to categorize in the most exciting way, and honestly, open-minded audiences would be better off witnessing it for themselves, as free of outside influences as possible.
If you’re still with me though, Smith presents a singular take on the body horror genre filtered through a different and deeply felt LGBTQ+ lens. Its unwieldy, unpredictable, and genre-blending narrative won’t be to everyone’s taste, but those prepared to follow Smith and his game down this sticky rabbit hole will be rewarded with a highly original effort.
Ben (Cooper Koch) is a young man imminently moving to Los Angeles in hopes of becoming a porn star, and in order to send him off with a nice wad of money, his friend Dom (José Colón) has arranged for the couple to transporting some high-priced drugs across the border at the behest of drug dealer Alice (Jena Malone). Dom and Ben usually have to ingest the drugs to hide them from border agents, but it turns out the drugs aren’t quite what they expected, and getting them back at the other end won’t be that simple.
Yes Swallowed ostensibly starting out as a relatively family-friendly drug flick gone wrong, it’s not long before Smith completely flips our expectations of such a story, between an unsettling body-horror aspect and a deliberately bizarre perspective. Without revealing too much, the stuff in Dom and Ben’s stomachs very soon begin to cause intense digestive upset, much like the writhing aftermath on screen.
There is also a clear desire on Smith’s part to show the naked male body in unexpected ways at all times; full frontal nudity frequently abounds, both in terrifyingly angsty and beautiful forms, but never for a gay panic laugh as it often is in Hollywood. And then there’s the prominent queer overcurrent; It’s clear from the start that Dom has feelings for Ben leaving, while Alice’s drug lord Rich is a wacko middle-aged man played with theatrical delight by the great Mark Patton (of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge fame).
All of this adds up to a consistently off-kilter work that eschews much of the overt supernatural horror in favor of something far more grounded and plausible. The climax feels perhaps like a a little it goes on too long once its point has been made, but that does little to undermine a bold and fearless entry into a subgenre often fetishistically concerned with grisly destruction above all else.
The cast also deserves a lot of credit for bringing Smith’s misleading vision to life; newcomers Cooper Koch and José Colón (who has no other credits to his name) are easily likeable as our two leads with digestive difficulties, and it doesn’t take much audience effort to fully support their increasingly grim struggle to survive. . The ever-great Jena Malone is also perfectly cast as the gruff drug dealer whose characterization proves more complex than it initially appears, and again, Mark Patton is clearly having a lot of fun playing the creepily creepy drug-smoking kingpin (or queen?). Rich. His nonchalant performance lands just on the right side of camp without undermining the “seriousness” of the piece.
The technical aspects are also rock solid; Smith has chosen to shoot the film in a square 4:3 aspect ratio that emphasizes the confinement of the leads, while Christopher Bear’s pulsing synth score ties the visuals together with aplomb. Continually disarming in its undulating unpredictability, Swallowed offers a new version of body horror that considers human frailty from an unusual perspective.
Flashing Myth Rating – Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
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