A queer body horror film starring Cooper Koch and Mark Patton
The new queer horror film Swallowed is a chilling tale of what happens when a drug run goes wrong, horribly wrong. Written and directed by Carter Smith, Swallowed breathes new life into the body horror genre and delivers hard-to-watch sequences while also exploring an emotional bond between the two male leads. With outstanding performances, innovative camera work, loads of eye candy and drugs that are actually alive, you’re in for a fun viewing experience with an intense payoff.
Best friends Benjamin (Cooper Koch) and Dom (Jose Colon) are spending their last night out together before Benjamin leaves for California where he’ll begin his career as a porn star. Don, who’s afraid he’ll be forgotten after the move, plans to smuggle drugs to ensure his friend has the money he needs to get started in a new city. When they meet up with the dealer, Alice (Jena Malone), things quickly take a turn for the worse as she forces them at gunpoint to swallow condoms containing drugs and demands they cross the Canadian border. The two soon find themselves stranded in a remote cabin with Rich (Mark Patton), an impatient crime boss who’s pressuring them to deliver the goods. Soon it’s revealed that the condoms weren’t filled with typical drugs but actually living insects whose bites emit an erotic high.
The theme of pain and pleasure is on display in Swallowed and like his previous film Jamie Marks Is Dead, director Carter Smith wonderfully builds up homoerotic suspense. The platonic relationship between the two leads, gay and straight, is properly fleshed out and intensifies as their situation turns more deadly. The film starts off as a slow burn but eventually progresses to become more uncomfortable and nerve-racking as the story unfolds. A mix between survival and body horror, Swallowed doesn’t rely on blood and gore but creates a chilling atmosphere with scenes that are implied. There are several moments, especially towards the third act, that are hard to watch, even when the horror is not explicitly shown. We’re eventually led to a vulnerable final showdown between Ben and the gay drug lord and it’s both thrilling and unnerving.
Swallowed presents a tiny cast that puts on high-caliber performances; a strong point for this independent horror film. Cooper Koch and Jose Colon have brilliant chemistry together and share some truly beautiful moments on screen. Koch, who also starred in last year’s queer horror film They/Them, has become a horror hunk to watch for. He looks badass during the climax of this film sporting only a fringe jacket and a pair of revealing tighty whities. Horror icon Mark Patton has a prominent role in the second half of the film and he does not disappoint. An unhinged old queen with psychotic tendencies, his performance adds an element of comic relief while still being quite terrifying. It was nice seeing him return to his horror roots and you can tell he had fun with the role. Jena Malone, who plays Patton’s evil accomplice is also no stranger to the genre starring in films like Donnie Darko and The Ruins. Alice is cutthroat but she does have some redeeming qualities. It would have been nice to see this character even further developed.
A low-budget production, yes, but rest assured you’re in for a thrilling ride throughout. Carter’s script and directing abilities are both dynamic and unpredictable. Shot on location in Maine, Swallowed captures astounding visuals, like a river scene, in particular, that are quite moving. It’s a nice juxtaposition from the skin-crawling nightmare fuel we see in other parts of the film. There’s a fair share of male nudity which is handled tastefully and relevant to what the characters are enduring. The powerful visuals are matched with an energetic score that adds to the intensity. Rina Mushonga’s captivating track Narcisc0 entrancingly opens and closes the film.
While some of the horror elements could have been pushed further, Swallowed is a refreshing, out-of-the-box feature with a few surprises up its sleeve. There’s an artistry to the tight and suspenseful direction, right up until the film’s energetic finale. It’s bold, provocative and chilling; a great example of what we want for the future of queer horror cinema.