Follows two best friends on their final night together, with a nightmare of drugs, bugs, and horrific intimacy.
The line between risk and reward is often a fine one to walk along. Smuggling drugs across the border could easily fall into this category of reaping an important payment if you can overcome the risk of getting caught and facing the dire legal consequences. But what if the risk had much, much darker consequences? Writer/director Carter Smith (director of 2008’s “The Ruins”) brought his latest project, “Swallowed”, to Fantasia Festival in Montreal, Quebec, for its international premiere.
Benjamin (Cooper Koch) is just about to head out to the United States to pursue a career in the gay porn industry. His very close friend, Dom (Jose Colon; starring in his very first cinematic feature film), is to drive him across the Canadian border, but has to make a stop before they get there. Benjamin is shocked when he finds out his buddy is meeting a drug dealer (Jena Malone; “The Neon Demon” “The Hunger Games” movies, and “The Ruins”) to transport a small quantity of drugs to their southern neighbors. Dom is then the one shocked when he is forced, at gunpoint, to ingest tiny bags containing an unknown substance in the goal of expulsing them at the other end once he gets across the border safely. What he doesn’t know is that whatever is inside those bags are alive, and they better not burst out of their sealants, or the border patrol will be the least of his worries.
Carter Smith directs his first feature film in 8 years and seemed to enjoy working with Jena Malone so much on “The Ruins”, 14 years ago, that he brought her back for the cold role of the drug dealer who forces the protagonists in a precarious situation. In fact, he has put together a very small, yet effective and entertaining cast. Malone’s harshness in the role of Alice is razor sharp in her commands ordered at gunpoint, then also is able to demonstrate tenderness and empathy once things go awry for our protagonists. Jose Colon performs exceedingly well, the (understandable) anxiety of his character emanating from the screen, while Cooper Koch should rapidly become everyone’s favorite. His presence is comforting (despite the nerve-racking situation), heart-warming, and genuine all at once. His character, Benjamin, changes from bystander to victim to avenger (not the Marvel type) and every second of it feels authentic. Not to mention the incredible Mark Patton (Jesse from “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge”) who portrays the head honcho of the illicit operation: a sassy, bi-polar-ish villain who isn’t afraid to wave a gun around.
“Swallowed” does seem to get lost, somewhere along the way, unfortunately. It remains, for the most part, entertaining, but fails to captivate due to lack of exploiting “what could have been”. The genre switches from crime, to body horror, and completely back to a gangster film, with so much more body horror left on the table. The audience will surely get their dose of wincing and grimacing from what isn’t shown onscreen and the credible performances by Jose Colon and Cooper Koch, but Carter Smith’s film lacks the gut-wrenching deterioration involved in the body horror genre.
Despite the entertainment provided by Mark Patton’s role in the second half of the 92 minute runtime, the last portion of the film seems to run in circles and stretch out unnecessarily. Scenes go on for what seems like forever, seemingly to add suspense or tension, but failing to do so. All of it culminates in a rather predictable ending that makes you wonder why things were so tedious in the final act.
Make no mistake: “Swallowed” remains an entertaining queer take on an particular formula combining crime and body horror on an independent film budget with a fantastically lovable micro-cast. It simply leaves a lot of potential on the table. Carter Smith’s take on drug smuggling gone-too-far receives the passing grade of 6/10 and should be given a watch.