I wondered early on in Swallowed whether it was going to have an anal as well as an oral angle. I was right, it did.
Some background on that speculation. Two friends, Ben and Dom. Ben is gay and handsome and about to leave his no-mark hometown to be a porn actor in LA. Dom, not quite so hot and straight, is not. He’s staying behind, where he might well, from the looks he’s giving Ben before they part, be nursing the remains of an unrequited love.
As a farewell gift to Ben, Dom has arranged to make some cash to give to Ben by smuggling drugs into California. It’s easy money. All he has to do is swallow some packages, drive through the border, vacate his bowels and, hey presto, it’s payday. As plot setups go this is all as hard to swallow as multiple filled condoms but a sharp intake of breath and a temporary suspension of the critical faculties helps everything on its merry way.
Events don’t pan out the way they should. For starters, Dom hadn’t realised swallowing drug-filled condoms was part of the plan. Nor had he expected a badass like Alice to be overseeing the operation, waving a gun about and shouting. And he certainly hadn’t expected Ben to get involved in the enterprise somehow too.
A night of escalating woe is the result. The border, a restroom where things go fantastically wrong. A condom bursting internally (this cannot be a spoiler – it’s an iron law of every “ingested drugs” movie) and the arrival on the scene of the angry guy who’s masterminding the whole thing, a far less wholesome piece of work than the almost entirely unwholesome Alice.
Which is where the anal angle comes in, as one of the men lies prone and shivering on the floor, his penis getting bigger (one of the effects of the drug), while his friend attempts to retrieve the yet-to-appear packages the only way he can. Cue big jar of Vaseline.
There are a couple of other good schlocky twists, and things increasingly take on an almost Cronenbergian body-horror flavour, but you get the idea – a horror movie with an ick factor which also asks the audience to have a think about that. Ben is on his way to LA to have his rectum interfered with in any number of ways, let’s not forget.
So there’s a sly humour at work here. It belongs to writer/director Carter Smith, another of whose films I watched last week. And, interestingly, The Passenger was also a story about an unequal relationship set in a period of escalating woe.
Here, Cooper Koch plays the more labile Ben, a plausible would-be porn star with a chiselled torso, while Jose Colon (name not entirely inappropriate) plays Dom, the pack leader whose incapacitation is going to force Ben to man up, grow a pair, choose your possibly homophobic epithet. Jena Malone’s gift for badassery is put to good use as the tough, no-nonsense Alice, while Mark Patton arrives late on the scene as lisping, ageing old-school homosexual Rich, the guy who runs the show.
There will be gunplay as well as assplay, death and quite a lot of unpleasantness, but no actual shit, in case brown is not your favourite colour. Smith does the whole thing with a certain amount of decorum (these things are relative) and on a budget, his four main characters a couple of vehicles, a couple of locations, a cabin in the woods. The rest he does with his camera and his nighttime settings, working up a paranoid atmosphere with angles and edits and Christopher Bear’s broody soundtrack and keeping the drama alive by never quite showing us entirely what’s going on.
For all the glimpses of male members it’s a horror film first and foremost and Smith has some fun with traditional horror by putting a spin on the “final girl” idea. But instead of a fit young woman wearing a tight white T shirt, it’s a buff young man in a pair of tight white underpants.
Yeh, good. Good fun. And there’s something to think about in there too, not least fisting as a life-saving strategy. Enjoy.
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© Steve Morrissey 2023