Swallowed forces us to fall in love with two friends about to part ways. Ben (Cooper Koch) is leaving town to pursue his porn star dreams in Los Angeles. His friend Dom (Jose Colon) is sad to see him go but wants to help send him off with as much cash as possible. Dom finds himself in way over his head when what he thought was a typical drug deal becomes much more sordid and deadly. This celebratory sendoff finds the friends in a fight for survival that is unexpected and hard to look away from.
Swallowed is an indie film that promised us Queerness, body horror, Jena Malone, and Mark Patton. However, it delivers tension, discomfort, and so much more. I expected it to be a fine film and was pleasantly surprised from the moment I hit play. I can almost hear people screaming at me as I write this; this movie is better than The Ruins. Which is another movie by writer-director Carter Smith starring Malone. Even though it was fine and also Smith’s first feature, someone somewhere just left their body and is probably sputtering something problematic as you read this. Allow me to finish upsetting them as I tell you why this movie works for me.
Our Favorites Come In Off The Rails
Malone is giving us Walmart Spray Tan Becky With The Bleached Hair the second we set eyes on her. She’s got a cooler full of what we assume are drugs, as her green fingernails are used to wave a gun in the faces of our duo. I can see her in another life selling “found” puppies in a parking lot and yelling at any manager that asks her to leave. We’re unsure what’s happening when we meet her, but we know we cannot trust her. This is correct because she is withholding a massive detail about the baggies of drugs she’s forced Ben and Dom to swallow. Her Alice isn’t here for a long time but is here for a chaotic time. I also appreciate that her character gets a complete arc instead of just being discarded.
On a scale of 1-10, Mark Patton rolls in on a fifteen and finds ways to go even higher. I lived. His Rich is possibly the most quotable character I have seen so far this year. Lots of horror fans put this movie on their list just because we love to see him in the genre. He delivers a performance that is hard to forget. He plays a captivating, dangerous, and chaotic villain in a tasseled leather jacket. This character shouldn’t work, but Patton works every single second of the film until you have no choice but to applaud. While all of this serious shit is happening, Patton keeps us asking, “WTF?” while trying to process it all. This is no small feat because this movie is a journey that never takes the easy (or expected) route.
I spent a lot of time talking about the two people most of us are familiar with. However, Koch and Colon also hold their own in this film. Koch is every kid with a dream who wants to break out of their small town. Colon is every person that has someone they’re willing to go to the ends of the earth for. They don’t get much time up top to solidify their relationship before all hell breaks loose. However, they use every second to paint us a picture that this bond is the strongest bond either of their characters will ever have. This makes it easy to understand why neither will leave the other when shit hits the fan. It adds a layer of texture that so many movies miss the mark on.
About These Critters Though
I was starting to wonder how we would get to the body horror when Dom got punched by a homophobe causing a baggy to reveal the creatures we assumed were drugs. These parasites are deadly but also work as a party drug. What doesn’t kill you keeps you horny for hours. This is why these bugs are to be handled with care and are more valuable than the humans they are currently residing in. Because I’m a nosey weirdo, I’m one of the people that wanted to see more of these. However, from a script standpoint, it’s not necessary. They’re not meant to be the main focus. Too much of them would have led to a very muddled movie. Or worse, lead to them overstaying their welcome and giving us time to look for flaws. I don’t want to ruin too much for people who haven’t seen Swallowed, but each time we get one back is a moment. They also do a lot of damage for something so tiny.
I know this review has gotten annoyingly long, and you want me to shut up so you can go watch the movie already. However, as an aspiring horror historian, I won’t sleep if I don’t discuss Koch and Patton’s scenes together. We most recently saw Koch in They/Them, and most people default to A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge when they think of Patton. We know how that movie impacted Patton’s career (if not, I highly suggest you watch Scream, Queen! My Nightmare On Elm Street). So their scenes particularly warmed my cold little, dead heart. It was almost like watching a torch pass to a new scream king.
Film still has a long way to go regarding representation, especially seeing how the industry as a whole seems afraid to embrace intersectionality. However, the significance of their moments together hit me right in my feelings in a way I wasn’t expecting. I think it might do the same for others, and I love that as long as it doesn’t lead to you telling Queer people how to feel about the movie on Twitter. Let us leave that energy in 2022 and accept that when we are outside a community, we don’t get to pretend that our response is more valid. It’s okay to not understand all the nuances of something not made for you, Janet. It’s also okay to reevaluate something you like if/when people in the community it was made by/for disagree with whatever you’re saying about it. Cool? Thanks! Bye!