Body horror and queer coming-of-age are subgenres that can certainly go hand in hand if executed well, especially since navigating sexuality as a young queer person can sometimes feel like a horror film in its own right. swallowed successfully blends multiple ideas and subgenres to create an intoxicating and original piece of queer horror. Tropes and gender norms are flipped here, with males having to go through much of the chaos that female characters would normally go through in a more typical thriller. The horror in this film contains bizarre elements that many viewers would probably never expect to find in a standard genre film, but it all works and serves the story. swallowed is a dynamic film that has a lot to say and still has a sweetness though it can get grotesque at times.

Written and Directed by Carter Smith swallowed follows Benjamin (Cooper Koch) and Dom (Jose Colon), two close friends in Maine, as they celebrate their last night together before Benjamin heads to LA to star in adult films. Dom decides to surprise Benjamin by getting the two involved in a drug deal to provide Benjamin with some cash before he moves. Things soon go awry, however, when drug dealer Alice (Jena Malone) forces the boys to swallow strange sacks that fool them into thinking they’re just drugs. Realizing what is actually happening to the two friends will force them to confront a horrible nightmare and their feelings for each other.

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Smith, who directed the 2008 natural horror film The ruinsHe creates his own shared universe, so to speak swallowed. In 2006, Smith made a compelling and terrifying short film entitled bug crush, which contained similar themes and ideas as swallowed, and the two films actually seem to exist in the same world. swallowed expands on a concept first explored in bug crushup the ante and take it to new unexplored levels. swallowed serves as a kind of accompaniment to it bug crush but contains a much richer narrative that is as unpredictable as it is captivating.

swallowedThe body horror sequences of are chilling and memorable, but these elements only set the stage for a more low-key crime story featuring queer characters. Mark Patton who played the lead role Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s RevengeShe comes in late in the movie and really turns things up. Patton is chilling as a relentless queer villain who is portrayed very realistically and never feels exploitative. Malone is another lovely addition to this film, mixing grindhouse sleaness with charm. The ending sees a scenario and final showdown that most viewers won’t see coming, and feels like a Coen brothers film as events quickly unfold until the characters are transported to entirely new places both metaphorically and literally to be brought. The script is extremely layered, with crazy surprises hidden in every peeled-off layer.

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Benjamin and Dom’s relationship is warm and very believable, anchored by two great performances. Koch and Colon have great chemistry and create a loving dynamic between the two characters that brings a light to such a dark film. That light continues to the end, even enough to warrant a smile after the credits roll. Having said that swallowed is shocking and disturbing, but so multifaceted it feels like three films in one. It’s body horror, but it’s also a dark crime thriller, and it still manages to show humor and heart. Every time the film feels like it’s going to drag on, another U-turn is made and the film becomes excitingly fresh again.

The grimy setting and the somber but clear cinematography add to the film’s overall mood and aesthetic. The punky soundtrack also contributes to this swallowed shine and sound like something out of an early Gregg Araki film. In total, swallowed is a film that turns the genre on its head while building a fantastical yet terrifying world that should be revisited again and again.

Swallowed will be screened at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival on July 15th and 18th.

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