Swallowed is an agitating and tense queer horror which follows two childhood best friends as they try to smuggle drugs over the Canadian border.
Director Carter Smith’s latest gnarly feature is full of tense nail-biting moments. Swallowed follows childhood best friends Benjamin (Cooper Koch) and Dom (Jose Colon) on their last night together before Benjamin moves away to LA. Benjamin dreams of moving from the small town life he’s used to and making it in the big city, succeeding his dreams of becoming a porn star. Dom has been in love with Benjamin for as long as they’ve been friends, but they’ve kept the friendship completely platonic. Dom wants to give Benjamin a whole load of cash before his move as a going away present. But in order for Dom to get this cash, they both must partake in a task which leaves them both questioning life and the extent they would go to for their friendship.
The two must swallow a bunch of drugs, or what they think are just drugs, and take them over the border into Canada. Once completed, they’ll be rewarded with the money. Alice (Jena Malone) is in charge of the whole operation, giving both Benjamin and Dom strict instructions on what to do. What Alice fails to mention is that the seemingly ‘innocent’ drugs that they’re smuggling in their bodies are actually alive bugs. Once Benjamin and Dom cross the border, things start to go south. Dom is punched in the stomach by a homophobic redneck in a gas station just after the border which leaves him in agony, fighting for his life. This pain is only the start of his worries as the drugs he swallowed are all still inside of him, unable to be set free.
What I thought would be a film filled with extremely rich body-horror scenes turned out to be a deeply personal story between two queer friends. Yes, there are moments of utter distress, but there’s more focus on the friendship between Benjamin and Dom. Dom has possessed feelings for years for Benjamin but has cared too much about him to ever do anything about it. Giving Benjamin this goodbye present is Dom’s way of finally telling him how much he has loved him. When things start to turn messy, Benjamin is there for Dom no matter what, even putting his own life on the line. They are both clearly two caring individuals whose fates and roads to the end are rocky.
Coch is an absolute standout in his role as Benjamin. After giving his breakout performance as Stu in John Logan’s They/Them last year, it’s great to see Coch back so soon in a queer role. The past few years have, thankfully, brought us many superlative queer horrors, such as Titane and We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, which are both exemplary. Titane especially has a queer character in the main role but there’s not a ‘big fuss’ about it. Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) is just living her life (granted, she’s not a very nice character) and there’s not a hidden message behind it all, she’s simply being herself. Benjamin is similar in Swallowed, as he’s being himself and aiming to live out his dreams. We are in need of more horrors like this, and fortunately, we now have Swallowed to add to the ever growing list. Yay!
It wouldn’t be fair to talk about Swallowed without mentioning Malone. This is the second time Malone has teamed up with Smith in a feature film. Malone’s first was The Ruins all the way back in 2008. Malone enhances Swallowed in every scene she’s in, and plays a great drug dealer. I’d love to see her in more crime/horror, especially as horror seems to be the route she’s taken with her features recently (Consecreation, Antebellum, Swallowed). However, with this being said, my favourite performance of hers is easily Mindy in Lovesong, one of the most delicate yet heart wrenching films I’ve ever seen. Malone really can go from a terrifying drug dealer to the sweetest character you can’t help but fall in love with.
Whilst Swallowed is clearly a horror film, there’s not a lot of actual horror that goes on. It’s more what’s inferred. It’s tremendously anxiety-inducing from the get go. All you can think about is what is happening inside both Benjamin and Dom’s bodies after you find out that what they’ve swallowed is something more sinister than either of them could have ever imagined. There’s very limited gore, which I was hoping for more of after reading the synopsis. But it manages to create an eerie atmosphere all the way through. It’s nothing like David Cronenberg’s body horror features, but you can definitely see an influence. I can’t wait to see what Smith directs next in the horror genre!