★★★★.5 out of ★★★★
Directed by Carter Smith
Being a drug mule is the absolute worst. Mind you, this reviewer has never been a drug mule, but there’s a nagging feeling that muling drugs for miscreants, reprobates, and slackened dolts would be an awful time. The only thing worse than being a drug mule? When the drug mules are forced into servitude in the name of Cronenbergian insects and a web of gnarly body horror.
In 2022’s Swallowed, directed by Carter Smith (The Ruins, Jamie Marks is Dead, and Bugcrush), we’re treated to a drug deal gone wrong in the context of the worst elements of a 1970s Cronenberg film. Think Midnight Express meets Shivers meets Dog Day Afternoon. Sound wild? Well, it is.
Swallowed, largely shot in rural Maine amongst an exceptionally small cast and crew follows budding porn star Ben (Cooper Koch) and his faithful pal Dom (Jose Colon) on their last night together. Ben is leaving the confines of rural Maine for the greener pastures of gay porn in LA. Dom is hopelessly stuck in a cycle of boredom, marginal jobs, and equally marginal acquaintances. As an amicable gesture towards Ben and his new lifestyle, Dom decides to earn the two some quick cash. Worried that Ben will fall prey to the darker side of LA’s gay porn scene Ben concocts a quick and easy money-getting ploy.
The two head to a mutual acquaintance of Dom’s, played near-perfectly by Jena Malone as the despicable drug dealer Alice. Alice explains, or rather demands, that Ben and Dom just need to swallow a handful of packages, drive across the border, and retrieve them from their butts. The packages need to stay neatly tucked in their butts to stay nice, warm, and alive. Uh…what?
From the minute that Dom and Ben are forced into this horrifying serfdom, their friendship goes to places most relationships never come near. The tests they face ratchet up with each terrifying scene. Not to mention, these are scenes that have never really appeared in a horror film. Sure Cronenberg and others have come close, but trust us, these horrors are original and lasting.
Dom and Ben eventually meet up with Alice’s brother, also superbly played by horror legend Mark Patton (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2). Incredibly, Mark Patton, whose character is unnamed, takes on a Tiger King-like role but turns in one of the more nefarious and evil performances. The third act of Swallowed falls apart in every way imaginable. Not in the pejorative mind you, but in a tense and gasp-worthy series of vignettes that will have you nervously asking yourself “…this can’t get any worse, right?”
Horror director Carter Smith has an incredible eye for tension, suspense, and the ability to deliciously pluck at audiences psychological weaknesses. He constantly pushes us to rethink our survival instincts in the face of scenarios we’d never end up imagining. But the source material is amplified by exceptional acting on the part of each and every individual that shows up on the screen.
Swallowed has no weak links. It’s a true-blue horror story that’s never quite been told. Carter Smith’s ability to gently ease audiences into the story and then trap them in the isolated environs of rural Maine is a real feat. Horror audiences will definitely swallow what Carter Smith is serving up!
Swallowed is likely Rated R and it is currently working its way through the festival circuit. The next stop is the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal in July.