Review by Sean Boelman
LGBTQ horror is quickly becoming a thriving subgenre whereas it used to exist on the fringes of the genre. That is what makes Carter Smith’s Swallowed such an exceptionally notable watch — it is unabashedly queer in a way that few films have the balls to pull off, even in this more diverse era of filmmaking.
The movie follows two best friends who, on their last night together before one of them moves off, find themselves living a horrific nightmare during a drug deal gone wrong. It’s a story that’s part crime thriller and part romance, with a few elements of body horror thrown in for good measure, and it’s arguably more unsettling than anything a traditional horror flick has done in a while.
This is a film that is far less interested in jump scares or even showing the audience anything that would traditionally be considered “scary”, and is more concerned with creating an atmosphere of genuine dread. It’s a movie that thrives in challenging the audience and pushing them outside of their comfort zones, which can border on unpleasant at times but is never unwatchable.
At first, it may seem that the film is a bit overly nihilistic — that we are just supposed to be watching these people’s miserable experiences despite the fact that they have done very little wrong to deserve them. But as the story unfolds, the movie reveals its hand and makes it clear that the film actually has something profound to say about queer trauma.
One of the things that really stands out about Smith’s script is how well it makes the audience identify with the characters. There are only four significant characters in the movie, which definitely works to the advantage of the film. There is plenty of time for us to find these characters either charming or intimidating, depending on which side of the coin it falls.
As the leads of the movie, Cooper Koch and Jose Colon do an exceptional job in their roles that are heavily physical and obviously quite taxing. Jena Malone gives a nuanced performance that is almost hard to recognize as her at first. And queer cinema icon Mark Patton (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge) gives a performance that is just the right amount of over-the-top.
There’s a very slimy aesthetic to the film, which plays into the horror aspects of the movie and contrasts nicely with the wooded backgrounds. It’s clear that we are meant to feel disgusted by much of the film, and it does a phenomenal job of creating this aggressively uncomfortable atmosphere for the script to work in.
Swallowed really only could have happened as an independent movie, but we need to be grateful that something this unabashedly itself was even made. It is hard to watch at times, and may even leave you feeling a bit queasy, but it’s worth every second.
Swallowed debuted at the 2022 Overlook Film Festival, which runs June 2-5.