By: Emily von Seele
The new movie from Carter Smith (The Ruins) is a queer horror film that manages to be both a terrifying and squirmy piece of body horror as well as the story of a beautiful relationship.
Ben (Cooper Koch) is about to head to a new life in California. He has been promised a part in a porn film and is excited to begin his new chapter as an actor. Dom (Jose Colon), his best friend of many years, is hesitant to see him go. The pair are close, and there is an undeniable connection that goes deeper than simple friendship, though neither one seems ready to address it. In order to give Ben a bit more security when he lands, Dom has arranged for a last minute infusion of cash. He has agreed to smuggle drugs across the border for his cousin. It’s supposed to be simple — quick and easy cash.
But when they arrive at the pick up location, Dom’s cousin is out of commission and her girlfriend, Alice (Jena Malone), is running the show. In no mood for bullshit, she quickly pulls a gun and tells Dom exactly how everything is going to go down. He is tasked with transporting the drug packets in his stomach. After they have come out the other end, he is to keep them boxed up and warm, and call her so that she can retrieve and deliver them to her boss.
Nothing is ever simple, and this plan quickly begins to fall apart. The packets are not what they were supposed to be, the plan doesn’t go as it should have, and Dom and Ben are quickly thrown into a dangerous situation that neither one is fully equipped to handle. Alice and her frosty disposition are just the tip of the iceberg in this criminal enterprise.
There is a lot to love about this film. For starters, the relationship between Ben and Dom is complex and beautiful. Though lifelong friends, it takes about two seconds for the audience to deduce that these two are crazy in love with one another. It’s not ham-fisted or obviously stated, but rather, brought on in layers as the story progresses. It injects a lot of great character work throughout the story. We really care about these guys and want them to get out of this really fucked up situation and back on the road to safety.
While not the same brand of body horror as The Ruins, there is plenty in here to make you squirm. No spoilers, but the film revels in the moments that cause the audience to cover their faces, gasp, and squeal in discomfort and fear.
The standout of the film is the performance by Mark Patton (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, Scream, Queen). Though he has been away from acting for decades, he has lost none of his talent or instincts. His turn as Rich, the absolutely unhinged drug lord, is one for the books. He bounces effortlessly between being dangerously unhinged, to being flirty, to being ruthless and intimidating in a way that displays full mastery of his craft. Incredibly nuanced and showing much more than the dialogue suggests, it’s a performance that will go down in horror history.
The way Smith tells his story and allows everything to unfold is great and really contributes to the overall effect. As the plot thickens, he layers on different elements of suspense. The drug run, the body horror, the race against time — they’re all leading up to a final game of cat and mouse that is anchored firmly in the psychology and interaction between two characters, and watching that last act unfold is nothing short of mesmerizing.
Swallowed is a queer horror film that is confident, in your face, and not the least bit hesitant to make its audience uncomfortable. The body horror is great, the character dynamics are excellent, and it is definitely one that you will want to keep on your list.