The movie poster for the latest film by director Carter Smith, a Maine native. Photo Courtesy of Momentum Pictures

The Valentine’s Day video-on-demand release of the Maine-made horror movie “Swallowed” marks director Carter Smith’s return to his home state, and to the unsettling, low-budget roots of his filmmaking career.

It also continues the artistic journey of a filmmaker whose career could serve as a template for other local filmmakers looking to make it in Hollywood.

Smith, 51, grew up in Bowdoinham and Bailey Island and graduated from Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham before moving to New York in pursuit of a photography career that’s seen his stylish and idiosyncratic work grace everything from Vogue and GQ to ads for Hilfiger and Tiffany’s. A lifelong horror movie fan, Smith eventually turned his eye to filmmaking, directing the 2006 short film “Bugcrush,” a harrowing tale of queer love gone very wrong, thanks to the tangled sexual politics of homophobia and toxic maleness – and some very creepy and dangerous insects.

It’s a familiar story for Maine filmmakers (Smith’s journey, not the icky bugs). After completing “Bugcrush,” Smith submitted his micro-budgeted first film to festivals, hoping the wider world would see his potential. They did. “Bugcrush” was accepted at the prestigious and career-launching Sundance Film Festival, with Smith winning the Short Filmmaking Award. From there, Hollywood came calling, with Smith landing the direction of big budget 2008 Hollywood horror flick “The Ruins.”

He went on to direct the evocative 2014 ghost/love story “Jamie Marks Is Dead” and the 2019 slasher “A Midnight Kiss” for Blumhouse Productions’ acclaimed “Into the Dark” Hulu horror series, among other pursuits. His keenly trained photographer’s eye and penchant for stylish scares made him a sought-after director.

“None of this would have happened if I hadn’t honed my eye as a photographer for 10 years,” Smith said. “Learning that visual language, a lot of that went into ‘Bugcrush.'”


Smith has come back to Maine – and his low-budget indie roots – for the wrenching, terrifying, and oddly touching, Maine-shot horror, “Swallowed.” The story of two small town Maine friends, Benjamin (“They/Them’s” Cooper Koch) and Dom (newcomer Jose Colon) spending one last night together before Benjamin heads to L.A. to become a gay porn star, “Swallowed” sees their pair embroiled in an escalating web of horrors, thanks to an ill-advised scheme to make some money by smuggling an illicit substance over the Canadian border.

“When you agree to something like that in a movie like this, everything that can go wrong will go wrong,” Smith said.

And do things ever go wrong. Taking up the insect theme of “Bugcrush,” the duo tasked with illegally transporting drugs as so-called mules winds up swallowing something much, much worse.

“‘Swallowed’ takes place in the same world as “Bugcrush,'” said Smith. “If the bugs from ‘Bugcrush’ existed in this world, ‘Swallowed’ is the story of what might unfold 10 years later after they had been monetized.”

Cooper Koch and Jose Colon in “Swallowed.” Photo courtesy of Momentum Pictures

Joining the increasingly beset and panicked Benjamin and Dom are Smith’s “The Ruins” star and good friend Jena Malone as the tough dealer who forces the young men to carry out the dangerous plan, and horror and queer icon Mark Patton as the flamboyantly terrifying kingpin out to retrieve his merchandise from inside the heroes, by any means necessary.

For Smith, casting Patton was a coup. The actor’s turn as the queer-coded hero of 1985’s “A Nightmare on Elm St. 2: Freddy’s Revenge” a formative experience for a young gay Maine horror fan looking to find his place in the genre.


“‘Nightmare 2’ was a big moment for me,” Smith said. “I was always a horror kid, and it was not easy growing up. Like a lot of gay kids, I didn’t see myself in movies and even though Mark’s character wasn’t gay, I connected and identified with him in a way that somehow made me feel better about who I was.” (For the whole fascinating story of Patton’s career-defining – and destroying – role in “Freddy’s Dead,” check out the documentary, “Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street.”)

Mark Patton in “Swallowed.” Photo courtesy of Momentum Pictures

Smith calls “Swallowed,” “a backwoods, queer, body-horror thriller,” and points to the film’s viscerally intense and queasy horrors as both a representation of the “horrific intimacy” forced upon the main characters’ relationship, and a true representation of what scares him.

“Body horror is something that I’ve always loved,” he said. “That idea that horror could come from something in the natural world, it’s a lot more scary than the supernatural. For these characters – one gay, one straight – I thought, ‘What’s the most horrific, uncomfortable, inappropriate version of wish-fulfillment I could put them in?'”

And “Swallowed,” which had a Maine premiere at Portland’s Nickelodeon back in October thanks to Maine horror anthology Damnationland creator Allen Baldwin, among others, is everything Smith claims and more. Compellingly and sensitively acted by Koch and Colon as a pair of friends whose unspoken relationship explodes in a night of unthinkable bodily torment, and with choice support from Malone and Patton (stealing scenes), “Swallowed,” mines human motivations for every gory, visceral shock and twist. For Smith, who made the film with a tiny crew and tinier budget in Maine locations from Bailey Island and Cape Elizabeth to his father’s off-the-grid cabin somewhere in unincorporated territory outside of Milo, this film represents a chance to recapture the gritty, scrappy indie filmmaking world he always loved.

Jena Malone in a scene from “Swallowed.” Photo courtesy of Momentum Pictures

“As a filmmaker, I was ready to make a film that was going to be my blood, sweat, and tears indie, micro-budgeted movie,” he said. “I never got the chance to do that – after ‘Bugcrush,’ I got ‘The Ruins’ almost immediately. Here, with a tiny cast and crew, in a cabin with no electricity and no running water, I really got to sort of make that first film I never got to make.”

For Smith, whose next film for Blumhouse, a New Orleans-set “coming of age hostage road trip thriller” called “The Passenger” is due out later this year, Maine is always central to his identity as a filmmaker.


“It’s incredibly liberating being back here and doing things this way,” he said. “Nobody tells you making movies never gets easier. You can spend a lot of time not making movies because you’re waiting for permission. I get incredibly frustrated waiting, but then I get inspired looking at things like Damnationland.

“If you can find the right story to fit the resources available you don’t have to wait for someone else. I know how to make movies – now I know how to make a movie with eight people.”

“Swallowed” is available on demand for rental or purchase at Apple TV, Google, Vudu, Amazon, and anywhere else you get your movies. The filmmaker advises viewers to watch it with the lights out, the phone tucked away, and the volume loud. More information on Carter Smith can be found at

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: