Swallowed (2022), written and directed by Carter Smith, is a wild ride. From the opening shot of Benjamin (Cooper Koch) dancing at a club, you’re captivated by the mere presence of this character. Dom (Jose Colon) enters and adds to the intrigue; what is the dynamic of their relationship, and what does the film’s title reference? Then the plot establishes itself, and the audience along on the journey.
Benjamin is about to head to California with the ambition of being a porn star. Dom is sad to see his best friend go but knows Benjamin will be a big success. Dom also knows that Benjamin doesn’t have much money, and is going to California on someone else’s dime that he’ll eventually have to pay back. Thus, Dom plans on sending Benjamin off with a lot of cash, and all they have to do is make a delivery across the border for his cousin’s friend, Alice (Jena Malone).
This film has a small cast, so everyone has to bring their A-game for it to really click. Koch has a natural charm that made him a solid protagonist. He doesn’t have to do too much for a large portion of the movie, but in pivotal moments, he is called upon to carry the emotional weight of the story. Koch is able to deliver in these moments. Malone is always solid, and Colon plays his part quite well. The big surprise was Mark Patton, who I had only seen in the infamous A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985). Patton seemed to have a lot of fun in this movie, and made for an exciting addition.
Early in the film, I was doubting the quality of the writing. There was a line of dialogue followed by a series of actions that just didn’t make sense to me. However, I was pleasantly surprised that what I’d caught wasn’t a mistake or a weakness of the script at all. Moments like that only make a film more memorable, because I felt surprise and then a bit of respect for what Smith had accomplished. Much of what happens in the movie works, but there are some pieces of the third act that felt a little too silly, or – at the very least – a bit unlikely. Yet, you have to end the movie in some memorable way, and Smith achieved that for sure.
Swallowed is a solid example of how to make the most of a simple story: craft characters that you understand, and give them clear motivations. Smith is able to keep things simple while adding emotional weight to the scenes so that each action has value to the characters and the audience watching it. A great example of a low-budget film succeeding at what it set out to do, Swallowed earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.