In SWALLOWED, writer and director Carter Smith (THE RUINS) tells the story of two friends, Benjamin (Cooper Kock) and Dom (Jose Colon), spending their last night together before Benjamin moves across the country to pursue a new career as a porn star. In an attempt to make extra cash, they make a very risky drug run smuggling some mysterious narcotic materials across a border at the behest of pushy pusher Alice (Jena Malone) when everything that can go wrong does go wrong. Unfortunately, the filmmaking itself goes very wrong. The film’s biggest misstep is that it’s advertising itself as a bad drug trip movie when it’s really a bad movie about smuggling drugs on a trip.
The first third of the film sets up a very scary, very intense premise. It also plays into the very real fear of homophobic acts of violence in an effective way. The film explores a friendship between a straight man and a gay man that sits somewhere just beyond being platonic, a very real situation that’s not talked about often enough. There are some very good performances, and the film is shot and edited well. For a movie with so much going for it, it throws all of this away at around the halfway mark, where it becomes a completely different movie.
The introduction of Marc Patton as a backwoods drug lord completely derails the film. This is in no way Patton’s fault. His legacy in the genre, as showcased in the queer horror documentary SCREAM, QUEEN! MY NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET makes him a prime casting choice for the role of an evil, predatory queen of a certain age. This section of the film effectively portrays the reality that young gay men are expected to accept being hit on and assaulted by older gay men, a truth that is all too often ignored. Patton is suitable in the role, even scary at times. It’s the fact that our most interesting characters, who we’ve invested in for the last 45 minutes, completely fade away, removing the stakes and deadening the pace of the film, that brings things to a screeching halt. The plot points we have spent half the movie following are suddenly gone, and we’re left with a dragged-out final act that, frankly, goes nowhere.
Advertised as a weird, slimy, queer body horror film, my expectations were set for a story of a much grander scale. The film can hardly be considered “body horror,” not in the Cronenbergian sense of the phrase, anyway. It’s more “body horror” in that there are a lot more people digging into their own and other people’s rectums for drugs than I expected to see, and frankly, it feels exploitative and, at times, silly. (Not to mention, the writer completely ignores the scientific laws of how long it takes a digestive tract to do its thing.)
The success and buzz surrounding this film worry me. Are we, as queer people, this starved for representation? While the characters are engaging and realistic, they are mistreated and poorly utilized. With a quicker pace and stronger final act, this movie might actually be worthy of the acclaim it’s receiving. Unfortunately, the film ends about 45 minutes into its 90-minute runtime.
SWALLOWED is now available via VOD.