Bite drowns your eyes in bodily fluids, one popped pustule at a time
Yeah, it’s gross.
Three friends head to the tropical paradise of Costa Rica for an extended bachelorette party, but after one of the girls is bitten by an unseen creature they realize too late that they should have gone to Las Vegas instead – because what happens in the jungle is about to follow them home.
Casey (Elma Begovic) and her two best friends, Jill (Annette Wozniak) and Kirsten (Denise Yuen), are celebrating Casey’s impending nuptials with an exotic vacation. Drinks, dancing and exploring the wonders of nature are all on the schedule, but their last day and night there end the trip on a less than thrilling note. Casey is bitten on her thigh while cooling off in a milky spring, and by the time they return home the bite appears nearly infected.
She has more pressing concerns though as growing doubts about the wedding and the unspoken fact that she and Jared (Jordan Grey) don’t share the same plans for a family leave her stressed and frazzled. Mother-in-law issues along with worries that she may not have been faithful on the vacation fracture her nerves further, but as Casey’s body begins to change her abilities and desires follow suit. Casey was bitten, but those around her are about to feel the bite.
Writer/director Chad Archibald (The Drownsman, Ejecta) opens his new film Bite with video footage of the girls’ vacation, but thankfully he chooses not to burden the movie and audience by being yet another found footage horror film. It’s appreciated on the face of it, but that decision also benefits the dual power of the film’s gory, gross and emotionally palpable third act.
Threat of found footage aside, the film starts a bit rough for other reasons too. The performances feel a bit wooden and artificial due in part to dialogue that feels too orchestrated in it efforts to be both spontaneous and expositional. The snippets we’re made witness to try too hard to make us aware of Casey’s issues instead of simply allowing viewers to discover them naturally, and they never feel as if they’re part of a bigger whole.
Casey’s return introduces us to the somewhat unconvincing apartment building she calls home – exterior shots resemble more of a warehouse and it’s curiously devoid of other tenants – and we settle in to watch her life and body deteriorate. Her loss is our gain as she tries to settle back into her life only to find guilt, fear and something else eating her up inside. Pus, bile and other bodily fluids leak from her body, and Archibald ensures that we see the discharge happening in such detail that we can almost smell it as well. Viewers with weak gag reflexes have been warned.
Fans of David Cronenberg’s The Fly may land on this film for its “body horror” element, but it shares more in common with 2013’s Contracted as a young woman’s body seemingly pays a physical price for a fun but ill-advised excursion. A bite is immediately to blame here, but the connection between sexual activity and her body’s subsequent physical devolution are clear. The effects work here does a fantastic, cringe-worthy job of of depicting the things that happen to Casey’s body as well as the things her body does to others. Equally effective is her apartment’s transition into a lair befitting a human-sized creature with messy eating habits.
The gore and biologically-themed set design will be the film’s main draw, but its power – and what helps it overcome the rough first half – is the drama of Casey’s condition. She doesn’t simply become a monster or a carrier for some kind of deadly tropical malady. She’s a woman suffering from real human feelings of doubt, guilt and fear that her past has destroyed her future. Begovic sells her pain, both physical and emotional, and the result is a human being whose suffering affects us even as it revolts and terrifies too. It doesn’t reach Brundlefly-levels of pathos, but her struggle to remain in control gives weight to the mess surrounding her.
Bite bites off more than it can chew early on, but fun, gory visuals and an increasingly affecting lead performance leave us craving more.
Editor’s note: Our review of BITE originally ran during Fantasia Film Fest 2015, and we’re re-posting it now as the movie opens in limited release.