Along with The Hallow, Bite was THE must-watch movie of Frightfest 2015, its reputation for making punters vomit and pass out preceding it and leaving body horror fans salivating with anticipation. Bite may have played better at mainstream festivals, where the audiences aren’t used to seeing such gooey, gruey sequences but, as we all know, at a horror festival the goal posts are different. Or they’re further away, I dunno, I’m not good with sports. Or metaphors. Suffice to say, Bite may make our mothers turn green but it’s doubtful that seasoned body horror fanatics are going to find it particularly disgusting.
The film follows Casey (newcomer Elma Begovic), a newly-engaged young woman enjoying her bachelorette party when she is bitten by some unknown creature. Shrugging it off as “just a little bite” (har de har), Casey returns home to her lovely, gunge-free apartment, which happens to be in the same building as her soon-to-be husband and mother-in-law who, by the way, absolutely hates her. Openly so. After a few days, Casey starts to feel a bit…iffy and, soon enough, she’s puking up sticky goo and that little bite has evolved into a massive, gaping wound.
Aside from feeling a bit rough, Casey discovers that her hearing has improved, but that strong lights hurt her eyes. Her friends worry that her guilt from possibly cheating on her man while abroad might be manifesting itself in her physical symptoms, while her fiancée frets that she might not want to marry him at all. Meanwhile, one of Casey’s buddies starts acting rather oddly, turning away from her in her time of need and even stealing her engagement ring to get her into trouble. As Casey starts losing her grip on reality, she holes herself up in her apartment and prays for everything to go back to normal.
There’s an awful lot going on in Bite, maybe even a bit too much considering all we really care about is seeing the protagonist turn into Caseyfly. Although the interactions with her friends, fiancée and future mother-in-law help to flesh out her character, they also waste time that could be better spent on the gross stuff of which, it must be said, there isn’t nearly enough. There are a couple of irritating, unnecessary twists late in the game that add absolutely nothing to the story and neither Casey nor any of the other characters are particularly interesting as people.
There’s also this unshakeable sense that she doesn’t even want to marry the guy to whom she’s engaged, which negates much of the central conflict, while the did she or didn’t she cheating angle is overdone and, again, unnecessary to the plot. Bite has been compared to Cronenberg’s seminal The Fly, but the key difference with that movie was that the central relationship was the focus and it was so naturally communicated by Goldblum and Davis that it made the ending even more tragic. There’s a sense that Casey and her man are supposed to be their modern counterparts, but it’s difficult to care about either of them.
We watch body horror for the make up and special effects and, in this respect, Bite is outstanding. The work on Casey is gloriously gooey, the hive she creates in her apartment making it feel as though the whole damn thing is oozing thanks to the incredible production design. A couple of memorable set-pieces are expertly handled, including a horrible moment with a bed full of newly-laid eggs and the most disgusting girl-on-girl kiss ever committed to celluloid. Much of the action is confined to Casey’s apartment, so it’s important that attention is given to every disgusting little crevice.
Begovic does a stellar job as Casey, in spite of being given little to work with when it comes to character development. Considering she has no real emotional arc, it almost would’ve been better for director/co-writer Archibald to leave her in the apartment alone for the entire movie, rather than attempt to give weight to her struggle with intervening secondary characters–Seth Brundle she ain’t. Even so, her transformation is just disgusting enough to justify the movie and to give body horror enthusiasts an excuse to see it. Just don’t expect to be reaching for the sick bag.
This isn’t the new Fly because, let’s face it, nothing is or ever will be, but it’s an entertaining watch nonetheless and most likely the best body horror movie of the year. Neither life-changing nor dull, Bite pulls no punches with the messy stuff but falls down when it comes to making us care about its victim.
WICKED RATING: 6/10
Director(s): Chad Archibald
Writer(s): Chad Archibald, Jayme Laforest
Stars: Elma Begovic, Annette Wozniak, Jordan Grey, Denise Yuen
Studio/ Production Co: Black Fawn Films
Length: 90 minutes
Sub-Genre: Body horror