Fantasia 2022: SWALLOWED – EASY RIDER through a Cronenbergian Lens

Swallowed, which just premiered at Fantasia is the latest by Carter Smith, who I previously knew as the director of The Ruins (2008), which also starred Jena Malone. This film has the director returning to the horror genre with a film about two friends, Dom (Jose Colon) and Ben (Cooper Koch) on their final night together before Ben sets off to LA to become a gay porn star. Looking to make some quick cash for his best friend’s trip, Dom stops off after a night of drinking and dancing in Canada at his cousin’s who has a job for him. There we meet Alice (Jena Malone), who is like the female equivalent of every tracksuit glock toting drug dealer we’ve seen in a film, but instead of an Adidas track suit, she’s clad in athletileasure and garish neon green acrylic nails; yet still armed with an glock and a killer attitude. She tasks the pair with swallowing baggies of what they presume are drugs, to smuggle them across the border into America.

The pair are then attacked by a redneck at a rest stop, in a nod to Easy Rider with Dom getting punched in the stomach rupturing one of his bags. The edge of your seat first act is capped off in the aftermath of the assault, when Dom passes one of his bags and in a very Cronenberg twist, it is very much alive as Dom begins to go into shock. The film then switches gears, as Alice shows up taking the pair to a remote cabin in an attempt to collect her valuable contraband. Of course, before all of this madness transpires, Dom who is straight, confesses his love for his gay friend Ben, taking these tropes and swapping and subverting them as the dynamic to their friendship and this film is changed in that moment. It’s then how Smith uses that foundation and plays with these horror tropes and devices, reinvigorating them with an engaging rogues gallery of characters and the contraband.

Swallowed is a visceral venture into the world of drug trafficking with a refreshing dynamic. It’s a film that grabs you in that first act and refuses to let go, as we witness this descent into this bizarre underworld through the eyes of these two men who just a few hours were so full of hope. This of course is also thanks to its cast who are our conduits into this world. While Malone is terrifyingly sublime here with a character that is riddled with nuance, its the pair of Jose Colon and Cooper Koch that keep you emotionally vested in this story as it makes its twists and turns. While some may pass on this film based on its “queer horror” label, they are missing out on a film that could quite possibly be one of the best horror films of the year. Swallowed is a taut and engrossing love story that plays out as an updated Easy Rider – through a Cronenbergian lens.

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