Body horror is my jam. Gooey and slimy body horror. The kind that makes me cringe and also makes me thankful it’s not happening to me. But what’s even better? A queer body horror film! And even better than that? The film, Swallowed, from Carter Smith (The Ruins) that was my number one choice out of the Overlook Film Festival 2022.
Swallowed, starring Jena Malone, Mark Patton, and rising stars Cooper Koch and José Colón, follows two best friends on their final night together, with a nightmare of drugs, bugs, and horrific intimacy. Yes, please.
And to celebrate the premiere of the film, I chatted with Carter about the inspiration for the film, queer representation in the genre, what’s up next, and more!
PopHorror: Hi Carter! Thank you so much for your time. I really loved Swallowed. I’m a huge fan of The Ruins, so I’m excited to speak with you.
Carter Smith: Nice!
PopHorror: What inspired the film, and how did this project come about?
Carter Smith: I had gone down the path of developing stuff in a more traditional way where you get financers and get cast attached and try to put things together, and I just had a couple of projects not come together. So, I really wanted to write something that was a film that I could do without anyone else’s permission, that I could do without having to wait for some A-list star to sign on or some big chunk of money to come from an investor. I wanted to see what it was like to go out and make a movie with a microbudget, a tiny little crew, and all the things that I thought were going to be my first film…
The Ruins was my first feature. It was a big studio movie, and in no way did I ever think that that would end up being my first film. I always imagined that a film like Swallowed would be my first film, and I would work my way up to doing something like The Ruins. So, I’ve done this sort of reverse career engineering thing, I guess. It was about the freedom to tell the story that I wanted to tell without anyone telling me I couldn’t.
PopHorror: That definitely makes it important, being able to make your visitation without someone telling you, “No, you can’t do that.”
Carter Smith: Yeah, or this, “You can do that only if… What if you do this? You can only do this if you do this.” I was just ready to make a film of my own.
PopHorror: The cast is really fantastic.
Carter Smith: Thank you.
PopHorror: Jena Malone, she always plays the angry person. She does it so well. I can’t really describe it. And I have never seen Mark Patton in a role quite like this, so that was really nice to see.
Carter Smith: He’s never done one.
PopHorror: How was the casting process, and how did you ultimately decide on your lead actors?
Carter Smith: The casting process was pretty simple because José Colón—who plays Dom, the guy staying behind in Maine—was someone that I photographed for allthedeadboys.com, which is a photography/art/horror side project that I do. So, I photographed him and just sort of fell in love with him. I actually wrote the script with him in mind. I also wrote the script after I saw Scream Queen, the doc about Mark and his whole experience with Nightmare [on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge]. I had him very much in mind for Rich as I wrote it. Jena is obviously someone I’ve worked with before on The Ruins, and we stayed friends. So I wrote Alice with her in mind. Cooper, who played Benjamin, put himself on tape and auditioned and from the very first time I watched that tape, I was like, “This 100% is the character.” So, Benjamin is the only one we ended up finding after looking for people to submit themselves. I didn’t know Mark. I sent him a message on Instagram and I was like, “Hey, my name is Carter, and I’m a filmmaker. I wrote a script that I think you might be great for. I kind of wrote it with you in mind.” He thought I was fucking with him. He didn’t believe me. It took a couple times, and I was like, “No, really. Here’s my IMDb. I really am a filmmaker. I’m going to make this movie, and I want you to be a part of it. This is for real.”
PopHorror: That is so awesome!
Carter Smith: I texted [Jena] and was like, “I’m making a move in May, next month. Come!”
PopHorror: That’s so cool! It’s amazing how social media works for us these days. So let’s talk about *that* scene when Benjamin must remove the bundles from Dom. How did that scene develop and what was filming it like?
Carter Smith: Once I had decided that at the center of the movie was going to be this unrequited love story between Benjamin being in love with Dom, I was like, “Okay. What is the most intimate and yet most horrific situation that I could put them in?”
Carter Smith: And that’s pretty much how I came up with that idea. It’s intensely intimate, and at the same time, the worst—or best—case of wish fulfillment ever. It’s incredibly fucked up, which I love. My sick, twisted mind always seems to work itself out in my stories. Filming it was… I’m not going to say it was easy. Very much from the beginning, everyone knew what we were doing, and they were done. The actors were incredibly dedicated. They knew that I wasn’t doing close-ups of… That it was going to be done in a way that left enough to the imagination where it wasn’t… I don’t know the words to best describe it. It was intensely emotional and physical for both of them, and that scene went on for… We probably shot that over a course of three days, on and off. If it’s in a movie, you know it goes away, and then it’s back again. It’s not one and done. It’s a dilemma that persists.
PopHorror: I like how you said you have a sick and twisted mind, because I do, too. I love body horror. I love the sickest, most twisted things. Leaving it up to the imagination definitely made me cringe, so you were very successful.
Carter Smith: Good!
PopHorror: I was like, “Wow! It’s going there. That is what’s happening now.”
Carter Smith: Yeah! I love playing with dread and anticipation. As soon as you know it’s going there, it doesn’t go there for a while, but you know it’s coming, and that makes it all the more uncomfortable, hopefully, when it does.
PopHorror: It makes you think, “How would I feel in that situation?” Probably not very good.
Carter Smith: Oh no. Even if you were hopelessly in love with the person you were in that situation with, it would still not be good, I don’t think.
PopHorror: Yeah, exactly! What is it that draws you to the horror genre?
Carter Smith: I’ve always loved horror. I’ve always loved scary stories and stories, both in literature and films, and haunted houses. Across the board, I’ve always loved it. I think that as a queer kid growing up in Maine as an outsider, horror was always a safe space, strangely. Not that there was any kind of great queer representation but by being a solo horror lover, for lack of a better word. I felt like I was a part of something. There’s a lot of gay kids that identify with the archetype of the final girl and standing up to your worst case scenario and your tormentors. It’s about having to stand up for yourself. That’s admirable. It’s not always so easy as a kid.
PopHorror: I feel like queer representation has grown in the last few years. People like you are making movies like this, and it’s becoming more mainstream. I am down with that. I am okay with that.
Carter Smith: Yeah, there’s going to be all sorts of representation. At one point, we were just the sidekicks or the bad guys, and now we get to be the heroes and the villains. We get to be anyone. And I think that’s exciting.
PopHorror: Yes! What do you have coming up next, Carter?
Carter Smith: I am finishing a film that I just did for Blumhouse called The Passenger, starring Kyle Gallner and Johnny Berchtold, which we just shot earlier this year in New Orleans. It’s a twisted, coming-of-age road trip hostage movie.
PopHorror: That sounds amazing.
Carter Smith: I’m super excited.
PopHorror: I have one last question for you today. What is your favorite scary movie?
Carter Smith: I would say, if I had to pick one, The Brood. It’s my go-to.
Thank you so much, Carter, for taking the time to speak with us. You can catch Swallowed now currently on its festival run.