The Ruins is a surprisingly nasty little horror from 2008 that not enough people have seen. With that film, Carter Smith crafted a disgusting body horror thriller with a simple premise, a trick he’s trying to repeat with Swallowed, but the result is nowhere near as good.
Our story begins with friends Ben and Dom on their last night together, before Ben is moving to LA to be a porn actor. Money is tight, so Dom, as a parting gift of sorts, has arranged for some cash for Ben. Dom doesn’t actually have the cash yet, but will get it after smuggling some drugs. Everything goes wrong (it always does in these films) and now Dom and Ben both have to swallow some mysterious packages and deliver them to a destination without a hitch.
Except, the packages don’t contain just your regular recreational drugs. Whatever is inside seems to be very much alive. Swallowed certainly cashes in on the grossed-out effect with its concept alone, but nothing really comes of it.
There’s a lot of potential here for a lot of icky body horror, but Swallowed is surprisingly tame. Aside from shots of an erect penis and the implication of some rectal searching, nothing in Swallowed is that scary or disgusting.
Cooper Koch does a good job as Ben, who is getting increasingly more freaked out and scared, but the script never really develops his character properly. Jose Colon spends most of the film writhing in pain and Mark Patton shows up as a deliciously caricaturish villain, but it’s Jena Malone who leaves the biggest impression, as she usually does. Malone is menacing and tough as Alice, the drug dealer who gets Dom and Ben into the mess in the first place.
There are some interesting themes at play here; one sequence in particular seems to suggest a fear or birthing but none of the themes Smith raises are developed or explored fully. It’s still thrilling to see the male body be savagely ruined in a genre that is full of misogynistic violence towards women.
Despite a few visually arresting moments, Swallowed just never gets going. It feels like a film that’s stuck in second gear but needs to find a third one. The plot is hurried; things get pretty serious pretty early on but without well-established characters, which makes it hard for the audience to care what happens to them.
We don’t always have to care, sometimes it’s fun to just see people die graphically, but Swallowed isn’t that graphic either. It’s hard to judge just who this is made for because it’s too gross for a casual viewer but it’s hard to imagine horror fans would enjoy something this tame.