Review: ‘Swallowed’ (2023), starring Cooper Koch, Jena Malone, Jose Colon and Mark Patton

March 13, 2023

by Carla Hay

Mark Patton and Cooper Koch in “Swallowed” (Photo courtesy of Momentum Pictures)

“Swallowed” (2023)

Directed by Carter Smith

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. state and Canadian province near the U.S.-Canada border, the sci-fi horror film “Swallowed” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with one Latino) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Before an aspiring porn actor moves to Los Angeles, he and his best friend are forced to go on a drug-smuggling run by swallowing the contraband, but the contraband ends up being dangerous insects that people use for intoxication. 

Culture Audience: “Swallowed” will appeal primarily to people who want to see gratitous body horror scenes with an uninteresting story that has a lot of plot holes.

Jose Colon and Cooper Koch in “Swallowed” (Photo courtesy of Momentum Pictures)

“Swallowed” starts off as an intriguing but somewhat far-fetched horror film. However, when Mark Patton and his terrible acting show up, the movie turns into a campy, boring and repetitive mess. The movie’s ending is also very weak and unimaginative.

Written and directed by Carter Smith, “Swallowed” could have been a much better film if it had a consistent tone and if the last half of the movie had a better-constructed story. Instead, the latter half of the movie just has idiotic scene after idiotic scene that are meant to shock and nauseate viewers without bothering to answer questions that “Swallowed” brought up in the beginning of the movie.

“Swallowed” begins by showing two American best friends in their 20s named Benjamin (played by Cooper Koch) and Dom (played by Jose Colon), who are drinking at a bar on their last night together before Benjamin moves to Los Angeles. The movie takes place in an unnamed U.S. state and in a Canadian province near the U.S.-Canada border. “Swallowed” was actually filmed in Maine.

During this bittersweet get-together, Benjamin (who sometimes goes by the name Ben) says to Dom: “Tell me one good reason why I should stay here,” in a tone of voice suggesting that Benjamin would stay if Dom gave him a good reason. Dom doesn’t try to convince Benjamin to stay. Instead, he warns Benjamin that the people who are paying Benjamin’s living expenses while Benjamin is living in Los Angeles will probably expect Benjamin to pay them back, one way or another.

It turns out that Benjamin (who is openly gay) is moving to Los Angeles to become a porn actor. And the unidentified people who are telling Benjamin that he could be a porn star are the ones who have convinced him to move to Los Angeles, with the promise that they will cover his expenses. Dom identifies as heterosexual, but the movie repeatedly drops hints that Dom is bi-curious and has some sexual attraction to Benjamin. Dom tells Benjamin that he has a surprise: He wants to give Benjamin some money as a going-away present.

But there’s a catch that Benjamin doesn’t find out about until it’s too late: Dom is getting this money through a drug deal. Dom drives himself and Benjamin to a remote wooded area, where Dom goes to meet the drug connection. Dom is alarmed to see his cousin Dee (played by Hannah Perry) in the passenger seat of a car. Dee looks barely conscious and is obviously under the influence of an unknown substance.

Dee’s friend Alice (played by Jena Malone), who set up this drug deal, won’t tell Dom what Dee ingested. All that Alice will say is that Dee “isn’t feeling well” and that Alice will look after her. Dee was supposed to be part of this drug run, but since she’s unable to do it, Alice says that Dom will have to make the drug run without Dee.

And then, Alice tells Dom that he has to swallow the drugs, which are wrapped in condoms. Dom refuses and is about to leave with Benjamin, who tells Dom that he doesn’t need any money from Dom. But then, Alice pulls a gun on both of them, makes them swallow what appears to be a white substance in the condoms, and tells Dom and Benjamin that they both have to go on this drug-smuggling run, whether Dom and Benjamin want to or not.

Alice refuses to tell Dom and Benjamin what they swallowed. However, she gives specific instructions that when the drugs are delivered, the condoms have to be “clean,” because she assumes that the condoms will exit Dom’s and Benjamin’s body through defecation. Before Alice drives away, she tells Dom and Benjamin where to meet her after the drugs have been smuggled safely over the Canadian border.

During this tension-filled road trip, where Dom and Benjamin argue about what to do about this problem, the two pals go to a rest stop so that Dom use the restroom to try and defecate out condom-wrapped drugs that are in his intestinal system. It doesn’t work, and Benjamin goes in the restroom to check in on Dom. They have a conversation while Dom is on a toilet in a locked stall, and Benjamin is directly outside the stall.

Almost as soon as that happens, a stocky, homophobic bully (identified in the movie’s end credits as Randy Redneck, played by Michael Shawn Curtis) goes in the restroom. When Randy Redneck sees Benjamin in the rest room talking though the closed bathroom stall to Dom, this homophobe automatically assumes that Dom and Benjamin in the restroom for a sexual tryst. As already shown in the trailer for “Swallowed,” when Dom tells the Randy Redneck to back off and mind his own business, Randy Redneck punches Dom very hard in the stomach.

From then on, Dom is in excruciating pain, as it’s implied that Randy Redneck’s punch ruptured one of the condoms inside Dom’s body. One of the condoms eventually comes out of his body. The condom is intact, but it doesn’t have powdered drugs in it. The trailer for “Swallowed” already reveals that what’s inside those condoms are white caterpillar-like creatures that Dom and Benjamin have never seen before.

Dom is in so much pain, he can barely walk. He also says that he can’t feel his legs. During this long road trip, Dom tells Benjamin: “I can’t feel my legs, but my dick has been hard for an hour.” He then nuzzles up close to Benjamin in a sexually suggestive way, as if he wants Benjamin to do something about Dom’s erection. Benjamin just looks uncomfortable and scared.

As Dom’s intestinal pain gets worse, a terrified and panicked Benjamin decides that Dom has to be taken to a hospital—even if the drugs are found in their system, and they get in trouble for it. But just then, an angry Alice arrives back on the scene in her car and knows exactly where Dom and Benjamin are on this deserted road. Did she put a tracking device on Dom’s car? The movie never says how Alice found them so easily. There are lot of these types of plot holes in “Swallowed.”

Alice is impatient to get this drug deal done, but Benjamin insists on going to a hospital to get medical help for Dom and possibly himself. Alice says they says she’ll help Benjamin bring Dom to a hospital, on the condition that she does the driving in her Jeep. Anyone with common sense can see that Alice is lying. However, Alice still has a gun, which she uses as a threat, in order to force Benjamin to do what she wants.

Instead going to a hospital, Alice takes Dom and Benjamin to a remote wooded area, where she says her boss lives. They go to a small cabin, where Alice holds Dom and Benjamin hostage. She tells Dom and Benjamin that they won’t be going to any hospital until the drugs come out of their bodies first. Because she doesn’t want to do the dirty work herself, you can imagine what happens next.

Eventually, Alice’s boss—a lecherous creep named Rich (played by Patton)—arrives at the cabin. None of this is spoiler information, because the trailer for “Swallowed” gives away about 85% of the plot. The movie gives no explanation of the origin of these insect-like creatures that Alice eventually reveals are being sold as exotic and trendy ways for people to “get high” if they lick these animals.

“Swallowed” also never explains why it was so urgent for Dom and Benjamin to swallow the packets when there was little to no chance of their car being searched when they crossed the border, as long as they made sure not to call attention to themselves by acting suspicious. Drug mules who swallow contraband almost always do so because they have to go through airport security to get where they’re going. It’s pretty obvious that “Swallowed” writer/director Smith didn’t do enough research into the realities of drug trafficking before making this poorly conceived movie.

During all the scenes with Rich, “Swallowed” takes a steep nosedive into over-exaggerated acting, awkward pauses and fake-looking emoting during conversations. Rich, who is openly gay (he calls himself a “queen”), immediately shows that he’s lusting after Benjamin. At a certain point, the movie goes from body horror into something that looks like a predatory Grindr hookup gone bad.

Malone and Patton portray one-note villains in “Swallowed,” and their performances are not impressive at all. Colon spends most of his screen time playing a shallow character who’s doubled over in pain. Koch is the only cast member who is required to show emotional range, and his performance is adequate but overshadowed by how stagnant the movie gets in the last half of the story.

And don’t be fooled by the poster/key art for “Swallowed,” which has a misleading image that’s never in the movie. One of the worst things about “Swallowed,” besides Patton’s cringeworthy acting, is that the movie gets more and more ridiculous, thereby ruining the potential to be a truly scary horror film. Instead, it just turns into series of gross-out “proctology” scenes and the villains yelling a lot while they point a gun at their victims. It seems like this time-wasting, junkpile movie was made as a pathetic excuse to depict some twisted fantasies involving bugs and a human anus.

Momentum Pictures released “Swallowed” on digital and VOD on February 14, 2023.

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