Experience Body Horror After You’ve Swallowed (FANTASTIC) This Indie Gem
First Non-Festival Release: TBD
Director: Carter Smith
Writer: Carter Smith
Runtime: 95 Minutes
Starring: Cooper Koch, Jose Colon, Jena Malone, Mark Patton
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
This film’s review was written after its screening at the Fantastic Film Festival in 2022.
Best friends Benjamin (Cooper Koch) and Dom (Jose Colon) are celebrating Benjamin’s successful breakout in the adult film industry. Before he is meant to fly out for Los Angeles, Dom takes him on a quick errand for some going away cash meant as a gift for his new life. They meet Alice (Jena Malone) who forces them to ingest unknown drugs carefully wrapped in little baggies to smuggle across the border. Once across, one of the bags ruptures in Dom’s stomach and Alice rushes the duo to her family cabin so they can extract the rest. Things turn violent when Alice’s boss, Rich (Mark Patton), swings by to take over the operation himself.
Grounded gay horror drama disturbs and unsettles in low fi indie gem Swallowed.
There is something so subversive about Swallowed that makes it a delight despite the obvious budgetary constraints. It’s not often that one can go into a horror film with a pivotal scene involving fisting and remain serious throughout the entirety. This is thanks to the depth provided in the script and the performances of the main cast. Swallowed asks many interesting questions about male sexuality, bodily autonomy, and the lengths we go for ourselves and others.
Fantastic acting from both Jena Malone and Mark Patton adds depth to who would otherwise be paper thin horror villains. The two leads, Jose Colon and Cooper Koch, do a great job as well given that they are shouldering more of the emotional moments of the film. Much of the growth occurs in Rich and Benjamin’s arcs meaning Patton and Koch bear the emotional weight of the film. The pair face off in a steely battle of wills that raises the stakes of the final act nicely.
Rich is a menace. He is everything that you can be afraid of in a queer coded villain that actually ditches the subtext for the literal text of the film. His self-centeredness, cowardice, vanity, and disregard for human life make him an excellent foil to Dom and Benjamin. While imperfect themselves, they both represent the more caring and sentimental members of the LGBTQ community. This isn’t done in an internalized homophobia sort of way either. Dom is exploring his sexuality and Benjamin is about to become a successful adult film actor. The values of free love, subversion, and going against the grain are still present, they just look different in the younger gay men in this film.
Jena Malone’s character is also an interesting one. She vacillates the entire film between hardened drug dealer and begrudgingly caring friend. Her outbursts can be off-putting, and she tends to push characters further than she should. It’s clear that when it matters, she does care, even if her desire for self-preservation overrides her own morals.
A slow burn with a bit of uncertainty that keeps the viewer on edge until the finale, Swallowed is bolstered by strong direction. The approach less is more is often the best one and Swallowed adheres to this lesson excellently. The creatures that Dom swallows look real which makes the film much more eerie than had some cartoonish cgi been used. Gross out yet realistic body horror anchored by a powder keg of human drama that explodes like the drugs in Dom’s stomach makes Swallowed a much-needed entry in the low budget horror sphere.
Horror thrives when smaller films gain traction and Swallowed is the exact kind of film that deserves a cult following. Detractors will claim its smaller scale and more intimate setting take away from the premise, while the opposite is true. Swallowed excels because of its realistic approach to body horror that is rooted in themes of sexuality and exploration. Beyond the merits of its story, Swallowed is simply a great little film. Strong characterization and performances, particularly by Malone and Patton, and an ever-present sense of dread make Swallowed a treat for gay horror fans.
Overall Score? 7.5/10