Synopsis: After a drug run goes bad, two friends must survive a nightmarish ordeal of drugs, bugs, and horrific intimacy in this backwoods body-horror thriller.
Stars: Jena Malone, Cooper Koch, Mark Patton, Jose Colon
Director: Carter Smith
Running Length: 92 minutes
TMMM Score: (4/10)
Review: The one good thing about getting COVID and being isolated from my partner was that it allowed me time to binge a few random shows I’d been lining up to watch on my own. One was Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Stories for FX on Hulu. I missed the entire first season, and the second season was beginning as I was in the deepest part of the corona-mania, so, not wanting to venture into a whole AHS season (I’m so behind), I thought these little one-off episodes would be fun. While not all winners, there were enough of the typically over-the-top Ryan Murphy and Ryan Murphy adjacent stylings to keep me entertained as I coughed and radiated heat from my fever.
While watching the new horror film Swallowed, I wondered what an excellent episode of American Horror Stories it would have made. It’s campy and creepy to be in alignment with the mission of this weekly horror anthology, filled with enough toned boys in various states of undress to be the non-threatening eye candy for young women and objects of lust for horror queens. It preys on some fairly abject terror of eating the wrong thing and paying a deadly price. Perfect, right?
The problem with Swallowed being a television episode is that at 92 minutes, Carter Smith’s feature film is unfathomably long and can’t justify taking up so much of your time after a critical turn of events around the sixty-minute mark. Until then, though, Smith has let the film cast an awesome skin-crawling vibe over the viewer. Friends Dom (Jose Colon) and Benjamin (Cooper Koch, They/Them) enjoy a last night out together before Benjamin heads out West to begin an adult film career. Dom wants to send his friend off with a little bit of money, so he agrees to assist in transporting what he thinks are drugs, which turns out to be far more trippy.
Delivered by Alice (Jena Malone, Consecration), the little packets must be muled (swallowed and excreted) to safety, and when Dom can’t take them all, Benjamin is forced at gunpoint to take one as well. All would likely have worked out fine, except the men make a pit stop at a rest area, where they get into an altercation, and Dom is injured, causing one of the packets to break inside him. What has been released into his stomach is more than your usual illegal substance and is more than he, Benjamin, Alice, or the demented head smuggler (Mark Patton, Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street) bargained for.
Swallowed is a complex film, not just for its subject matter but for its general griminess. You get the sense that everything in the movie has a greasy feel, so there’s no way ever to feel settled. That’s likely Smith’s intention, and the effect makes that first hour genuinely electric. Unfortunately, the power gets turned off during the last thirty minutes when Swallowed shifts into an all-together different gear, more languid and seedy, skirting on the edge of exploitative. It’s not particularly well-performed or well-filmed either, adding to its growing inertia as the minutes slowly tick away. The lasting result is more than a bad taste in your mouth and a sour stomach…the film gets to be a real pain in your butt as it grasps its way to a crude finale.