Swallowed (2022) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

Swallowed (2022) Review

Horrorific content by angie on June 08th, 2022 | Movie Review | Love Sick, Drama, Psychological, Thriller, Body Horror, Urban Decay

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It's about two gay friends who are forced to smuggle drugs across the Canadian border by swallowing them.

Swallowed was directed by Carter Smith (Jamie Marks Is Dead, The Ruins) and stars Jose ColonCooper KochJena Malone (The Neon Demon, The Ruins, and Donnie Darko), and Mark Patton (Scream, Queen! My Nightmare On Elm Street, Family Possessions, and A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge).

Swallowed (2022) Review

Carter Smith's feature debut, 2008's The Ruins, presents brutal body horror that is not for the faint of heart. The director's latest film, Swallowed, also explores the body horror genre while adhering more closely to the queer life crisis theme present in his earlier film Into the Dark: Midnight Kiss. Body horror causes a change in its lead character and the different genres it changes to.

Best pals Benjamin and Dom enjoy a final evening of partying before Benjamin leaves their small town for Los Angeles. Benjamin is nervous about the big city and starring in a gay porn film, but he's ready for the challenge. He's pleased with the liberty to be himself. But he's also disheartened to leave Dom behind, for whom he feels unrequited love. Dom sends Benjamin off with some cash if things go wrong, leading to a drug run that turns into a nightmare of crime and bugs.

Smith employs The Ruins' collaborator Jena Malone to bring the necessary intensity to turbocharge the story. Her hardened drug dealer character, Alice, holds Dom and Benjamin at gunpoint, forcing the pair to smuggle unfamiliar bundles of drugs across the border into Canada by swallowing them. The urgency of her situation fills Benjamin with dread, which only gets worse as every detail of her instructions goes awry. The body horror kicks in here as Benjamin watches in terror as Dom suffers from excruciating pain, bizarre symptoms, and gross revelations.

Malone's performance is the driving force behind the plot, leading the lost protagonists from one scene to the next. She has to move the drugs before they become too expensive to keep. Unfortunately, the potential for genuinely nightmarish body horror is squandered in the film's second half, which focuses on exploring the horrors of a sexual predator within a crime thriller. Here, Benjamin is stripped both literally and figuratively bare, as he must find some inner strength to make it through his ordeal alive.

With events at the beginning and end of his journey providing context, Benjamin's story is one of overcoming difficulties, heartbreak, and figuring out who he is. Unfortunately, the supporting characters don't offer much beyond what is necessary to further Benjamin's development. Though lively and more charismatic than any other player on screen, Malone can't compensate for the abrupt and insincere changes in direction. While Colon unflinchingly sells the horrific moments of bodily transformation, there's not much else to Dom beyond his relationship with Benjamin. Mark Patton, who played Jesse Walsh in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge, gives an interesting spin on the typical criminal mastermind. However, the clunky dialogue and jarring genre shift can be pretty off-putting. Additionally, the characters' resolutions feel more like shortcuts than natural conclusions.

The potential for body horror in Swallowed is wasted. The revelations of what the drug satchels contain are disgusting, as are retrieval methods. The film has a determined quality but does not follow through on its promises of violence and gore. Instead, it focuses on the character of Benjamin in a predatory scenario. This shift in tone feels jarring and out of place. The body horror element feels more like an unfinished metaphor for transformation, from scared larva to confident butterfly. This does not fit well with the changing genre of the film.

Worth Watching? 

You'll probably be disappointed if you're looking for a bloody, gory horror movie full of disturbing body horror. Instead, Smith uses that element as a starting point to tell a deeply personal story about a character's trauma and queer identity. Although Smith has some interesting concepts, he has difficulty tying them together. The first half is solid and full of horror, but it falls apart when it becomes a crime story.

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