Swallowed (2022) Review
Carter Smith made his feature film debut in 2008 with The Ruins, a film whose graphic violence made many in the audience squirm uncomfortably. Now he’s back with Swallowed, a film that may once again have viewers squirming, but for an entirely different reason.
Benjamin (Cooper Koch, They/Them, A New York Christmas Wedding) and Dom (Jose Colon) have been friends all their lives, but all things change in time. Ben is about to depart their small town for LA and a career in gay porn. Worried about his buddy’s future in such an unstable line of work Dom arranges a quick drug run to give him some cash to fall back on. Unfortunately, things go wrong almost from the start.
Their contact, Alice (Jena Malone, Neon Demon, Antebellum) informs them that the packages will have to be transported internally. Then an encounter with a homophobic redneck (Michael Shawn Curtis) results in one of Ben’s packages rupturing, setting off a horrific chain of events.
Swallowed turned out to be a lot more character driven than I expected based on the plot and director. As it turns out those packages they swallowed contained bugs whose bite causes a host of drug like effects. Unfortunately, either by design or by budget, both those effects and the less pleasant aspects of retrieving the packages, are mostly depicted by way of the actors’ facial expressions and the work of the sound department. What we do see of Dan Martin’s (The Seed, Possessor) is simple but effective.
As the film goes on, the script’s body horror elements actually become less important than its crime elements, especially after Alice’s boss (Mark Patton, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, Amityville Clownhouse) arrives on the scene and leeringly announces he may have to get Ben’s packages out personally. This is no less uncomfortable than the events of the film’s first act, but it’s also a whole different kind of disturbing because by the time Swallowed’s final act arrives Ben is forced to rise to the occasion and deal with a villain who is as dangerous a sexual predator as he is as a homicidial drug trafficker.
The problem is, despite the elements all being well enough handled, the shifts in tone and theme don’t always go smoothly. The transition from a David Cronenberg inspired story about sexual parasites to a much more realistic and nasty tale of sexual predators, manipulation and murder is a bit jarring. Even more so if you were expecting a full-on horror film.
Some of the film’s strongest and most uncomfortable moments do come from the crime story in its last half, but I was disappointed at how little a part the bugs really played in the plot. With a little work Swallowed could have been written with the duo transporting more ordinary pharmaceuticals. The bugs feel almost as if they were tacked on for an added ick factor.
Despite that rather large disappointment, Swallowed has a lot going for it. The acting by the four leads, especially Patton and Koch is excellent. It’s something of a showcase for Koch who gets to show two entirely different sides of Ben. On the one hand bringing his and Dom’s long standing if somewhat complicated friendship to life, And on the other his battle of wits with Patton in the final act. Those scenes cap off an unpredictable and tense narrative with a suitably nasty payoff.
Swallowed isn’t the film it was hyped up to be or the film it could have been for that matter, But it’s an effective thriller and certainly something different.