[Overlook Film Festival] SWALLOWED Review - Exploring Homophobia Through Insect-Infested Body Horror
Breanna Lucci says Swallowed puts homophobia under a microscope. It's creepy, disturbing, and captivating.
Screened at the 2022 Overlook Film Festival in New Orleans, the psychological thriller, Swallowed (2022), written and directed by Carter Smith, balances disturbing body horror while avoiding gore almost entirely. It’s captivating, compelling, and tackles intense topics. The film puts homophobia under a microscope and offers a chance to dissect it.
Benjamin (Cooper Koch) is about to pack up and move to Los Angeles, with his dream of becoming a pornstar within his grasp. His close friend Dom (Jose Colon) is concerned about the move but wants to help and promises to get Benjamin some money. Although Benjamin denies needing any, Dom brings him to a warehouse to meet his cousin. Alice (Jena Malone), an unknown woman, approaches them and becomes hostile when Dom asks where his cousin is. When Dom finds he must ingest the little drug bags, he tries to back out. Alice, waving a gun in their faces, forces them to swallow the drugs. Things quickly go south as the pair face bigotry, homophobia, and the unsettling threat of bugs hatching inside of them.
Much of the film is accompanied by eerie silence and performances that will draw viewers into the narrative. Koch is the shining centerpiece, portraying every emotion with such talent I could anticipate Benjamin’s thoughts. Koch and Mark Patton, in an unnamed role, play off each other beautifully. Their exchanges are creepy and upsetting. Even when nothing seemed to be happening, the pair had me biting my nails in anticipation. It was fantastic.
The impressive performances from Colon and Malone cannot be overlooked. Swallowed is Colon’s feature-length debut, and he gives Dom depth that the film employs eloquently. Malone is known for her performance in horror films like The Neon Demon (2016) and offers Alice layers, like her intimidating nature. She is conflicted and can’t see how important her role in this disaster is. Her performance is intricate and provides a glimpse into Alice’s head.
Cinematographer, Alexander W. Lewis, utilizes handheld camera work. At first, I found it distracting, but I soon realized how well it works with the story. The film’s lead protagonist is Benjamin, so the film is entirely from his perspective. The cinematography amplifies his confusion and having to juggle an impossible situation.
Another critical part of this film is the overarching theme: homophobia in society. Dom and Benjamin have a beautiful friendship. It explores sexuality without depicting sex on screen. It forces us to consider how societal biases about homosexuality affect people in the LGBTQIA+ community. A scene with Randy (Michael Shawn Curtis) is particularly upsetting, depicting aggressive acts of homophobia. The film further exposes society’s ugliness and desire for conformity.
Swallowed is creepy, disturbing, and captivating. It will make your stomach churn as it forces you to face uncomfortable truths. Its themes, societal commentary, and fantastic performances are entertaining and authentic. It's a queer horror gem that shouldn't be missed.