Of the films that had their world premiere at the 2022 Overlook Film Festival, one audiences are sure to remember is Swallowed. This thriller-body horror mashup is written and directed by Carter Smith (The Ruins, Jamie Marks is Dead). It tells the story of two best friends, Benjamin and Dom, on a last night out. Benjamin is moving from Maine to Los Angeles to make a name for himself as a gay porn star, and Dom wants to give his friend one last hurrah. As an added surprise, Dom agreed to carry some drugs from Canada back to Maine to earn extra cash to give his friend. Unfortunately, what should have been a simple deal goes horribly awry. As the friends’ situation gets worse with each passing moment, they will have to face unimaginable horrors as well as their own relationship.
Smith has made a name for himself in the horror world through his dynamic characters and shocking body horror. Swallowed is yet another example of that. From the moment the audience meets Benjamin and Dom, it’s almost impossible not to be endeared to them. Individually they seem like very sweet, yet very different men. One is a beautiful gay man planning to become a famous porn star. The other is a more ruggedly handsome straight man who seems more content with a simple, quiet life. They don’t seem like two men who would have enough in common to be best friends, but there is obviously a strong bond between them – so strong that it would leave Dom to make an unwise plan to give his friend money and help him in his journey to stardom. Smith’s film really shines when it comes to Benjamin and Dom’s relationship not only because it is a beautiful friendship, but also because it blurs the lines of sexuality. While Dom expresses that he has only dated women, he also makes it clear that he has never loved any woman as much as he loves Benjamin. It’s a beautiful example of the fluidity of sexuality and the idea that one can fall in love with a person without gender being an important factor.
Then there is the body horror side of Swallowed. The idea of smuggling drugs across the border is already suspenseful. Smith takes it a step further by including drugs, bugs, and unintended physical consequences. Poor Dom gets put through the ringer as Benjamin watches and tries to save his friend. While most of what happens to Dom is internal and therefore unseen by the audience, there are definitely some strange outward symptoms. Most of these symptoms result in Dom being nude from the waist down for a large part of the film, yet Smith masterfully avoids making these scenes seem sexual in nature. Unfortunately, Swallowed loses of bit of tension and momentum in the final act as it rather abruptly shifts from body horror to a more methodical thriller, but the overall result is still a well-craft blend of suspense, revulsion, and heart.
Every performance in Swallowed is sure to leave an impression with audiences. Cooper Koch (Power Book II: Ghost, Less Thank Zero) stars as Benjamin. For the most part, Koch plays this character as a small-town guy who finally has a chance to make it big in LA. Yet, with the way he looks at Dom, it’s clear Benjamin has some reservations about leaving his best friend behind. Jose Colon makes his acting debut as Dom. Colon had the most difficult task in this film, as for much of his performance he has to be half nude and suffering internally from the effects of whatever drug he was transporting. Yet Colon delivers a hell of a performance, making Dom a character you can’t help but love. While individually these characters and performances are fantastic, together the on-screen chemistry between Koch and Colon set the film on fire. While these two are clearly the shining stars of Swallowed, Jena Malone (Neon Demon, The Ruins) and Mark Patton (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, Family Possessions) also deliver strong performances as a drug dealer and drug boss, respectively.
Swallowed is a fantastically suspenseful film with a heart-felt, gooey center. Smith has created a film that will not only make audiences cringe and writhe with the body horror elements, but it’s also the kind of queer horror film I hope to see more of. The film blurs lines between genres just as much as it blurs the lines of what sexuality is. While the final act does fall a bit flat after the wonderful build-up of suspense leading up to that point, overall Swallowed is still a powerful piece of cinema. Koch and Colon electrify the screen and steal the show with their dazzling performances and chemistry, which is impressive considering Malone and Patton’s credentials. Swallowed is sure to keep audiences squirming at the edge of their seat and will stick with them long after the credits roll like a bug burrowing into the brain.
OVERALL RATING: 7/10