Plot Summary: Follows two best friends on their final night together, with a nightmare of drugs, bugs, and horrific intimacy.
Carter Smith is a director that by all measures should be doing bigger films. After cutting his teeth doing music videos, he was tasked with the criminally underrated The Ruins. Since then, he has gone back to doing music videos, but also other shorts and feature film projects. Swallowed marks his latest feature since directing Midnight Kiss for the Hulu series Into the Dark. I have to say, even outside of this being a new Carter Smith flick, I was happy that it was one of a few Queer-centric films being featured at this years Fantasia Fest. Swallowed is at its core about a strong friendship, and it hints at a missed relationship between two men, Benjamin (Cooper Koch) and Dom (Jose Colon). What should have been one last night before Benjamin leaves for L.A to start an adult film career is complicated when small drug-laced creatures are introduced into the narrative.
First off, I have to give Smith a lot of credit for tackling vastly different genres such as crime-drama, horror and high-concept sci-fi without feeling messy or disjointed. This is impressive as any multi-genre film has to get the mix just right or something will feel off. Incredibly, the pulpier sci-fi elements are handled in a way that feels so grounded and matter-of-fact that it almost feels mundane. This isn’t to suggest that its boring and Smith is able to milk some great moments, not to mention a nice amount of tension around these bugs. It is this and the relationship between Benjamin and Dom that kept me fully invested throughout; Smith does a good job at not overwriting these two. We get to know just enough that keeps the brisk pacing intact, yet we know everything that is important for us to feel invested.
Tonally the movie shifts when Mark Patton enters the film. I assume most people will be aware, but Patton is an actor that starred in the infamous Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2, which has been discussed a lot lately for its Queer subtext. Patton is great and, for as over-the-top as his character is, the veteran actor, who has worked with the likes of Robert Altman and Cher, never goes full ham. It’s a credit to Smith’s direction and writing and Patton’s performance that we get a villain that is layered and complex. Yes, he is awful, but there are small moments that give you an inside into what made him this way. It’s way more depth than most on-screen baddies get. Cooper Koch and Jose Colon have to carry the bulk of the story and, I think they overall do a nice job. Their acting is maybe a little uneven at times, but I found them to be believable enough in their respective roles. Jena Malone makes the most of a small part and she ends up stealing a lot of scenes.
Swallowed does feel a bit ‘slug’gish in its final act. Once the trio hide out in this cabin-in-the-woods, the pacing slows down. This is where I feel the movie lags a bit for me. It’s still interesting and engaging, sure, but I wanted things to ramp up and they just slowed down. I also felt like Smith could have pushed certain elements further, specifically the sci-fi stuff. I do like how matter-of-fact it is at times but in my mind it is missing that memorable moment. The finale also has a sting but again, I think Smith could have gone harder. It feels weirdly like kid-gloves were put on this project.
I give Swallowed a lot of credit, it’s a Queer-centric movie that is has an adult film star at its center. The film not only doesn’t judge him, but it’s the strength that helps him survive. I just think the movie plays it safe in areas and in a sea of genre offerings this could have lost with the tide. Still, we do get full frontal male nudity so, there’s that.
Swallowed had its International Premiere at the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival.
Directors: Carter Smith
Cast: Jose Colõn, Cooper Koch, Jena Malone, Mark Patton
'Swallowed' is a genre-bending journey that has some great moments but holds back too much
Big film nerd and TCM Obsessed. Author of The Ultimate Guide to Strange Cinema from Schiffer Publishing. Resume includes: AMC’s The Bite, Scream Magazine etc. Love all kinds of movies and television and have interviewed a wide range of actors, writers, producers and directors. I currently am a regular co-host on the podcast The Humanoids from the Deep Dive and have a second book in the works from Bear Manor.