Seen at the Sydney Underground Film Festival
When it comes to queer representation in cinema, we’ve come pretty far in recent years by having some pretty mainstream movies throw in some form of representation. Sure it’s been minimal, like the 3-second lesbian kiss in Lightyear that sent everyone insane for a month or when a rock monster was revealed to have two dads but still, it happened. It’s fun to see gay characters popping up and more queer storylines in general… even when they turn up in dark horror/thrillers about drug trafficking, still fun to see.
Swallowed starts with two good friends, tough-edged straight guy Dom (Jose Colon) and his gay wannabe porn star friend Benjamin (Cooper Koch) who are having one last night out before Benjamin makes his big trip to start that porn career. After leaving the bar Dom tells Benjamin he has something special he wants to do to help Benjamin out… that something special is smuggling what they believe to be a bunch of drugs.
Of course once they get to the dealer, Alice (Jena Malone), things get a little out of hand and Dom ends up swallowing a bunch of the drugs in balloons at gunpoint, and then Benjamin is forced to down one. From there they’re told to be very careful, get to a specific bathroom and make sure they don’t do anything that might make the balloons pop… turns out, that’s not because they might overdose but because the things that are in the bags aren’t drugs but something that’s much more problematic.
From start to finish, Swallowed is gloriously queer and undeniably tense and uses the queerness as an element of what builds the tension. The biggest moment of real tension building in the opening half of the film is one that only works because of the queer element, with our main pair being confronted in a public bathroom by a homophobe which ends up being the main inciting incident that pushes the film into the intense dark territory it inevitably ends up in. It makes it clear how homophobia in general is a major catalyst for the events that transpire in a way that’s shocking and sets the film off on a terrifying course that it never lets up on.
For about the first half of Swallowed, it’s largely just a two-hander between the friends but where the film really elevates itself considerably is when Mark Patton enters as the dealer that Alice answers to and steals the entire film. If that name is familiar to you at all, Mark Patton was Jesse in the infamous Nightmare on Elm Street 2, the gay Nightmare film that was also one of the last things Mark made before effectively dropping out of the industry (you can learn his entire history through the Scream Queen documentary) so to see him pop up in this film was an absolute surprise and one that’s just delightful.
Mark’s character is absolutely terrifying and steals the entire film with ease. He’s one of those gay villains where the villainy isn’t solely due to his sexuality (aided by the fact we have a gay hero… look, that’s how easy this stuff is!) and the more and more the film goes on, the more and more unnerving he becomes. He owns every single frame of the film he’s in, taking over and becoming this wild force of nature that at any second could snap and take out the other characters we’ve come to love. It’s truly the kind of powerful performance that not only compels but makes you wish more than anything that we’d embraced Mark Patton back in the 80s because there were obviously decades of great performances that we didn’t get.
Swallowed is a wild, intense, sometimes sexy and terrifying trip that is worth taking. It wears its queerness on its sleeve while it tells its intense and dramatic story. Every passing minute the film gets more and more intense and weirder and weirder until it peaks with a glorious finale. It’s a good fun time, with a few moments that are definitely going to shock a more mainstream audience but if you want a dramatic thriller that’s got enough queer content to really piss off the right people, Swallowed will satisfy you happily.