Childhood buddies Benjamin and Dom are spending their last night together. Benjamin is escaping their small border town existence to L.A. for a lead role in Backwoods Boy Bang and a pop shot at winning best facial at the Squirty Awards.
Dom wants to send him off with a wad of cash to decrease his reliance on industry sharks so he organises a surprise drug trafficking mission. Despite his good intentions, they are immediately in over their heads and forced at gunpoint to swallow condoms packed with mysterious narcotics that must be kept at a specific temperature.
Now they must cross the border to an isolated rest stop in prime redneck country and wait for their bowels to regurgitate the valuable payload. What could possibly go wrong?
Director Carter Smith‘s career was turbo-boosted by non-other than Steven Spielberg when he hired him to direct The Ruins after viewing his short film Bugcrush. After working with such giants as Hulu, Epix, and Blumhouse Smith has returned to his own All The Dead Boys platform for this project.
It was originally established as a haven to wrestle full creative autonomy from the financiers, producers, and other cogs in the mainstream machine. As a result, the deliciously camp and clammy clusterfuck that is Swallowed is just about as independent as cinema gets. It is also fitting that its world premiere was at The Overlook Film Festival, an institution renowned for its commitment to Indie productions and championing transgressive and inclusive cinema.
Smith recruited actor friends and Instagram stalked others to fill roles that were often written with them in mind. Consequently, the quality of performances are well above the usual standard of films with such a minuscule budget. A large chunk of the interactions feel improvisational and although pacing suffers as a result it adds an authenticity to the screen chemistry that is worth the trade-off.
The relationship between the two besties turned mules is tender and believable with nuanced work from Cooper Koch and Jose Colon as Ben and Dom respectively. Colon in particular puts in a physically demanding shift. He spends much of the films opening third sporting a gigantic raging hard-on that wanders in and out of shot like an angry veined errant boom mike, and much of the next third having his rectum defiled more thoroughly than a testing Heffer at a remedial vet school. One sincerely hopes that he joked at least once on set about living up to his surname.
The camera makes full use of their good looks and nudity fans will get full value from the frank and fruity sexual nature of the film. Swallowed is an exploitation film, but you get the impression it is exploring the concept, in more ways than one, with a credible agenda other than lurid perving. However, the finale that sees Koch roaming the forest in white cotton pants and a tasseled tan cowboy jacket forges a compelling counterargument.
Also superb is the talented Jena Malone as the twatbag drug runner with a heart Alice. She is a quality actress who brings depth and complexity to a role that could easily have been swamped by bodily fluids and manic firearm waving.
Much of the flick’s denouement is dominated by the genre legend Mark Patton as the boss of the operation gone south Rich. A salacious coke hoovering sex pest who projects the persona of a character from an existential Carry On film starring Frank Booth from Blue Velvet. He is a truly loathsome opportunist that becomes humanised and almost incorrigible under Patton‘s capable tutelage.
The director also exploited locations he had full control over, such as a remote cabin he and his father built together during his high school years. Little did they know that it would one day become home to an extended cinematic orifice trauma on par with Gaspar Noé’s infamous Irréversible.
This reliance on semi-guerrilla-style filmmaking will not be for everyone. Nor will the uncomfortable bottom rummaging and tonal flip-flopping. Yet, those with strong stomachs and an even stronger sense of the dark heritage and meager rootage of B-movie Genealogy will adore its seedy antics.
Full credit to Smith for having the balls and humility to create the kind of punky grassroots horror his accelerated success prevented him from making. Much like James Wan’s luxuriously hokey Malignant and Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, Swallowed is the embodiment of a film the director wished had existed in the midnight movie section of the video stores of his youth.
Even more kudos for the inclusive and representationally progressive motivations behind it.
Body Horror, Dark Love Story | USA | 2022 | 92 mins | Not Yet Rated | Overlook Film Festival | Dir. Carter Smith | Cast: Jenna Malone, Mark Patton, Cooper Koch, Jose Colon