Swallowed is awaiting a UK release date.
What would you do for money? It’s a direct question that most of us have toyed with at some point in our lives. Sometimes this thought process is nothing more than a quizzical consideration. But, sometimes, it’s rooted in what we need – an escape, career progression or an urgent requirement to support those we love. These themes surround director Carter Smith’s latest horror, Swallowed. Mention Smith’s name and many will talk about The Ruins, a relentless slice of body horror. But for me, Smith’s LGBTQ+ short film Bugcrush will forever haunt my dreams. With Swallowed, Smith returns to the atmospheric horror of his 2006 short film by offering us a feature-length companion piece.
Shawn Mendes lookalike, Benjamin (Cooper Koch) and Dom (Jose Colon) are best friends, but the time has come for them to part, with Benjamin preparing to leave their small town for the bright lights of Los Angeles. As they enjoy one last night clubbing together, Benjamin’s decision is final, despite a deep unspoken love for his best mate. But maybe, it’s better to run than face rejection from the boy he has secretly loved for years.
Meanwhile, Dom hides his concerns for Ben, despite a fear that he won’t be able to protect himself in the big city. But even more pressing is the matter of his unspoken love for his freind, a love that has burned with increasing ferocity over recent years. As the night progresses, both boys avoid their true feelings for one another as they enjoy a final night together before the sun rises and they part ways.
But the night is about to take a deadly turn as Dom announces he wants to give Ben some money to help in Los Angeles if things go wrong. There’s just one catch; Dom will need to courier some drugs over the border. For Dom, his friend is worth the risk until he finds out from the dealer (Jena Malone) that the cling film-wrapped bundles of drugs are to be swallowed before transit. Even more disturbing, Dom is given clear instructions on caring for the piles when they leave his body. What is this strange drug? Ben wants to run a mile, but it’s too late as Dom swallows each package at gunpoint. Ben may be willing to use his body for his financial security and escape, but Dom is ready to use his to support the boy he secretly loves.
I am not about to ruin the surprise of what is held in those cling film-wrapped packages, but if you have seen Bugcrush, you will already have a good idea. Those little parcels are about to lead to a night of pure terror as both Dom and Ben face a Cronenberg-inspired horror that places them on a collision course with Malone’s boss (Mark Patton), a man who sold his soul long ago.
While Smith’s trademark body horror is displayed through rectal examinations that will leave you squirming, Swallowed is far more restrained than The Ruins. Here Smith smartly tones down the gore and allows his screenplay to do the talking alongside the terrific performances of Koch, Colon, Malone and Patton. As a result, Swallowed is a welcome return to the atmospheric horror of Bugcrush. While this may disappoint those searching for gore, it offers a far more engaging and interesting horror spectacle. Here Smith couples a dark and brooding nighttime journey with a daytime game of cat and mouse between a captor (Patton) and captive (Koch), creating two distinct chapters. The tonal shift between these may throw some viewers off. However, both combine to deliver a final psychological stand-off between Patton and Koch that is wrapped in themes of power play, position, lust and manipulation. Here Ben accepts that his only escape is ultimately through the use of his body and his sexuality. Swallowed may not always reach its full potential and doesn’t match the raw horror of its cousin Bugcrush. But Carter Smith’s proudly queer horror will have you squirming in your seat and is one of the best LGBTQ+ horror films of the year.
Swallowed may not always reach its full potential and doesn’t match the raw horror of its cousin Bugcrush. But Carter Smith’s proudly queer horror will have you squirming in your seat and is one of the best LGBTQ+ horror films of the year.