08th Sep2022

Frightfest 2022: ‘Swallowed’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Jena Malone, Cooper Koch, Mark Patton, Jose Colon, Roe Pacheco, Michael Shawn Curtis | Written and Directed by Carter Smith

Benjamin (Cooper Koch) and Dom (Jose Colon) have been best friends since they were kids – and Benjamin has been in love with Dom for almost that long. But Benjamin is heading to sunny Los Angeles for a blazing bright future in gay porn. Fearing the worst for his friend in the cutthroat world of the porn industry, Dom concocts a plan to make Benjamin some quick cash. All they have to do is a quick drug run across the border. But all is not what it seems, as the bags of drugs they swallow for their smuggling trip turn out to be something far more deadly and disturbing than they ever could have imagined…

Writer-director Carter Smith is probably best known for his 2008 horror film The Ruins, which explored a similar “body horror” theme, however Swallowed takes those themes and combines them with queer cinema by way of a road trip movie and survival horror! It’s a heady mix, one that swerves left and right as it goes, subverting audience expectations to deliver a film that ultimately explores the “horrors” that can happen to members of the gay community – threats of violence, exploitation and even seclusion.

And it’s the idea of seclusion that drives Swallowed – Dom is seemingly afraid he’ll be left alone in his small town without a fellow gay man and best friend Benjamin to talk to. Yet Dom also loves Benjamin and is at once afraid he’ll lose him to the wilds of Los Angeles, a place that will exploit Benjamin rather than support him. So what’s a friend to do? Find a way to help. The fact that Dom’s help ends up putting them in more danger and endangers Dom’s life even more is an irony that will not be lost on the audience.

The fact that our two leads are forever ending up in secluded places too – from the restroom in which they are attacked, which triggers the body horror of the packages in Dom’s stomach; to the cabin they end up in the latter portion of the film, held captive by drug dealer Alice, played by Jena Malone (The Ruins) and her boss, who’s responsible for the bug-filled “drug” parcels our protagonists swallowed, played by queer [and horror] icon Mark Patton (Nightmare on Elm Street 2).

Ultimately, and despite the horrors endured by Benjamin and Dom (including the freaky, and gross, bug packets they ingest), Swallowed is actual a sweet and tender look at the duo’s relationship and what people will do for love.

*** 3/5

Swallowed screened as part of this year’s Arrow Video London Frightfest.


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