Swallowed starts off innocently enough with an intimate dance between two friends on the cusp of a life-changing move, then goes off the deep end with an anxiety-inducing drug deal gone wrong with lots of surprising body horror.
From director Carter Smith, who also did the 2008 The Ruins and more recently the supremely underrated queer slasher Midnight Kiss for the horror anthology show Into the Dark, Swallowed had its world premiere at the 2022 Overlook Film Festival.
The film stars a small, but kickass group of actors, including the legendary Mark Patton, star of the notoriously gay-coded A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, who disappeared for several years following the film’s release over fear for the queer aspects.
Jena Malone (Donnie Darko, The Ruins, The Hunger Games, The Neon Demon) also stars, along with Cooper Koch (who will be in Blumhouse’s upcoming They/Them) and newcomer Jose Colon. Outside of these four characters, there’s not much else, but they do a lot with their ensemble.
Two childhood friends celebrate one last night before Benjamin (Koch) moves to Los Angeles to work in the gay porn industry. Trying to support his friend that he clearly has feelings for, Dom (Colon) tries to set up a drug deal that would get money for Benjamin to have financial stability in his move.
As one would expect, the drug deal does not go the way they expected. Nor do they expect the way they have to smuggle the drugs.
Swallowed, constantly switching between extremely intimate moments and tense action sequences, all takes place over the course of one night and the morning after, keeping you attached to what will happen next.
The friendship and unrequited romance between the two leads is realistic and sweet; you really want this pair to survive this ordeal. You also feel the pain that they feel knowing they have to leave each other, potentially forever, and go on with their lives.
While it is tense, the body horror elements simmer throughout, ratcheting up near the end with some intense violations.
While going pedal to the metal for the runtime, this film will ultimately affect your heart more than anything else, mostly due to the acting from Koch and Colon that goes beyond what you would expect from a traditional horror movie and carries a surprising amount of emotion between the two.
Swallowed is also somewhat of a personal piece for the director. Smith, who also grew up in rural Maine as a queer kid, felt lonely and dissatisfied with the representation he saw. This film is what he would have wanted to see as a horror-loving kid in the midnight movie section.
Swallowed succeeds because of the cast, and seeing Patton again in a prominent and well-acted role can’t help but fill me with joy since he’s stayed off the radar almost completely since Nightmare.
This film is much more into creating a thrilling one-night wild ride than a slasher or a more traditional horror movie. It doesn’t rely heavily on gore or injuries for its body horror, and is instead a lot more about the imagination. But for a horror thriller, Swallowed stands out for its heartwarming tint, excellent actors, and unusual progression of events.
The film is currently going around festivals and has not yet been acquired for distribution, but keep an eye out for it in the future.