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Swallowed Is a Queer Horror Film Guaranteed to Make You Squirm

Swallowed Is a Queer Horror Film Guaranteed to Make You Squirm

Jena Malone as Alice in Carter Smith’s SWALLOWED.
Alexander W. Lewis

This body horror shocker from out director Carter Smith made its world premiere at this year's Overlook Film Festival.

Most horror fans are familiar with out director Carter Smith's first feature, The Ruins, a Jena Malone-led body horror film in which a group of young people finds themselves trapped among bloodthirsty and body colonizing carnivorous plants. While his latest genre outing, Swallowed, which premiered at the Overlook Film Festival this month, may have left the killer foliage behind, the squirm-inducing body horror and bodily penetration remain -- as does Malone, albeit in a more villainous role this time around.

The film focuses on two friends, Benjamin (Cooper Koch) and Dom (Jose Colon), on the last night before the former is set to leave their backwoods Maine town for the bright lights of Los Angeles and a career in gay porn. The sexual tension and emotional connection are palpable between the friends, although Dom professes to be straight. But their bittersweet goodbye goes awry when the two get roped into a smuggling scheme by Malone's Alice, one that first turns violent, then horrific, then ultimately grotesque. (There's a haunting "extraction" scene that audiences won't soon forget.)

Cooper Koch as Ben (top) and Jose Colon as Dom (bottom) in Carter Smith\u2019s SWALLOWED.

The film is unquestionably "queer horror." To a person, every character that appears on-screen lands somewhere within the LGBTQ+ spectrum, and you get a strong sense this is exactly the kind of horror film that writer-director Carter craved when he was growing up queer in rural Maine. Queer love is a central motivator in the film, the stakes of which feel real. It also lends itself to breaking with tradition and giving the film a final (gay) boy. This adds a delicious bit of irony when the third act introduces actor Mark Patton, arguably the original queer final boy. Patton's most notable role was that of Jesse Walsh in the overtly queer coded A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (and the recent documentary Scream, Queen! My Nightmare On Elm Street about his experience with the film -- and its fallout).

Mark Patton as Rich (l.) Cooper Koch as Ben (r.) in Carter Smith\u2019s SWALLOWED

While the first two acts set up a truly horrific opportunity for gross-out body horror, the third shifts gears into something entirely new: a cat and mouse psychological horror film, where Benjamin is stripped (quite literally) down in a quest for survival. How this tonal swerve lands will largely impact audiences' enjoyment of the film. Those hoping for transgressive splatterfest in the vein of Brian Yuzna or David Cronenberg promised in the preceding acts may be left unsatisfied. However, witnessing Koch's performance turn as the ground shifts beneath him from protector to prey makes this a worthy watch. And the final shot is both sick and satisfying in equal measure.

This review is part of The Advocate's coverage of The Overlook Film Festival 2022.

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