SWALLOWED is a queer midnight love story that explores how far we are willing to go to protect the people we love. There is blood. And pus. And sweat. And tears. And it’s exactly the tender sweaty body horror film I wish my teenage self had discovered in the “Midnight” section of my local video store.
Carter Smith, writer/director
Before we get started, I need to say this… Swallowed has one of the most misleading posters that I’ve ever seen. I understand that it involves drugs and bugs and that smugglers swallow drugs sometimes, but the poster doesn’t represent the film. I feel like it was created by someone who was told the premise of the story without any of the plot details. It is always disappointing when there’s so much potential for the poster and it is squandered due to a lack of understanding and that’s exactly what happened here.
So, what is Swallowed about? It is a drug smuggling story with a twist. It’s barely a thriller by my standards, but that word keeps popping up. It is 94 minutes that you’ll never get back, so think very carefully before you watch it. Please read the entire review before drawing any conclusions.
In the film, Ben (Cooper Koch) and Dom (Jose Colon) are best friends who are about to part ways – Ben is moving to LA to become a porn star and Dom wants to send him off with spending money. Dom decides to make the money by running an errand for a Alice (Jena Malone). The errand? Smuggling the drugs across the border for Rich (Mark Patton). The drugs end up a little different from your usual fare, but I don’t want to completely spoil that for anyone that decides to check the film out. Along the way, shit happens because in these movies that’s what always happens. After multiple rounds of bad luck, the film concludes.
As a queer kid, growing up in rural Maine felt dangerous. At least as dangerous as the horror movies I loved so much. Maybe more so. I wanted nothing more than to see myself in the films I loved. What I got were campy sidekicks. Deranged serial killers. Faint undercurrents and vague subtext which barely touched on the loneliness I was feeling. I wanted to see someone who felt what I felt. Who loved like I hoped to love. And I wanted to be scared while I was with them.
Horrified by what was about to happen. Or what might not happen. Terrified by the darkness lurking as they struggled to face their worst fears. But horror wasn’t a place for queer stories – and my teenage self found a way to be okay with that.
But representation matters. Seeing yourself in the films you love holds true value. Even if those films also involve masked killers or the sweaty creeping dread of body horror.
Carter Smith, writer/director
I cannot relate to Carter Smith’s goal for this film or his lived experiences and, as such, I probably shouldn’t judge the film. However, I watched the film and I have an opinion, so I’m going to share it. My take away is that the film is a failure, but it is a failure from the parts that I understand. The film was, at no point, “thrilling” and I debated over whether or not I would classify it as such. Smith calls it body horror in his statement, while other places classify it as a thriller. While I understand that it technically meets the requirements to be body horror, I take issue with the horror aspect of this film. I did not experience any horror. I understand how someone more squeamish would likely disagree and want to put it in the body horror category, but I feel like the levels of disgust really need to be amped up – particularly when you see the poster. It was, simply put, boring. The film needed more to the story for the length of it. That’s probably why I didn’t feel like it was a thriller – thrillers rely on pacing. Swallowed moved at the pace of a Sunday drive.
- A horrible misleading poster.
- A purposely vague, unintentionally misleading, logline.
- A slow pace that disqualifies it as a thriller.
- Incredibly mild on the body horror.
What the film did have is a phenomenal cast. I often find myself loving a story, but struggling to watch it due to the casting and/or acting. This was the exact opposite. I was fixated on the film and it held my attention from start to finish. The reason for that was not the story… I kept questioning that. It was the acting. While I didn’t feel the story flowed well, each scene was expertly delivered. This is where I have a bit of a bias, as I only watched the film because Jena Malone was in it and I’m a huge fan of her work. That being said, Jena Malone, Cooper Koch, Jose Colon, and Mark Patton all do incredible work. The scene’s between Ben and Dom are amazing both in dialogue and performance – The chemistry between Koch and Colon is unreal. Alice plays an interesting role – is she good or is she bad? She keeps you interested in the film. Finally, you have Mark Patton… give the man an award. He steals every scene he is in… no one can act opposite him because they just disappear into the scenery.
So, after all of that, I loved the acting, I loved the script… how did I review the film so negatively? False advertising. Everyone did everything the entire way through production and then things fall apart. While I didn’t mention it above, the music isn’t great… but the biggest problems are the things I mentioned above. A bad logline, a misleading poster, and a genre misclassification. If you told me this was a “thrilling drama with a touch of body horror,” I probably would have reviewed it much more positively. If the poster didn’t mislead me and the logline had better set expectations, I probably would have reviewed the movie much more positively. If the logline was left alone and everything was changed, I would have viewed it positively. This is a film that could be good if you go into it without having seen the poster or found it in a specific category. It is, however, a film that is ruined when you find it in the Horror and/or Thriller section of your favourite VOD service and see the poster art.
Does the film deserve the 2-stars that I’m giving it? No, it is probably a 3.5-star film on its own. Does the film experience when weighted against the expectation setting that occurred deserve 2-stars? Definitely. That’s why I rated it the way I did, but as I said it held my attention for the entire duration of the film, not many movies can do that these days. If you don’t mind a lot of male nudity, love fantastic acting, and aren’t too squeamish, this film is probably worth watching when it pops up on a streaming service. Is it worth the current rental price? Probably not, but when it drops from new release pricing to regular film pricing, it could be worth the rental.
Swallowed was released on digital and on demand on February 14.
Movie title: Swallowed
Movie description: After a drug run goes bad, two friends must survive a nightmarish ordeal of drugs, bugs and horrific intimacy in this backwoods body-horror thriller.
Date published: 2023-02-14
Director(s): Carter Smith
Actor(s): Jena Malone, Mark Patton, Cooper Koch, Jose Colon