Studio: Shout Factory
Director: Chad Archibald
Writer: Jayme LaForest, Chad Archibald
Producer: Cody Calahan, Chad Archibald, Christopher Giroux
Stars: Elma Begovic, Annette Wozniak, Denise Yuen, Jordan Gray, Lawrene Denkers, Barry Birnberg, Daniel Klimitz, Tianna Nori, Caroline Palmer
A woman bit by an unknown insect while in Costa Rica for her bachelorette party undergoes a strange transformation.
Follow indie horror news or the genre film festival scene and chances are you heard something about “Bite” during its Fantasia 2015 debut. An ambulance photo accompanying social media scuttlebutt painted a picture of a movie so viscerally charged that at least one patron was compelled to vomit while another bonked his noggin following a fainting spell at the premiere.
Savvy suspicions smelled a marketing stunt holding hands with “Bite”-branded barf bags given out as promotional items. Short of a PR person copping to a pinch of William Castle-inspired showmanship, or an urgent care patient producing a bill for that ambulance visit, odds are we will never know if the commotion was staged or genuine. What we do know is that whether purposefully or inadvertently, the extracurricular event had horror fandom buzzing about “Bite” being a disgustingly disturbing experience.
Like that first ride at Six Flags accustoming your stomach to a day of dropping, “Bite” eases into its queasiness factor with a shaky “found footage” intro. Roll your eyes back down. “Bite” has a clever use for the first-person format by only employing it as infrequent flashback footage. This is a far more creative way to put an audience in the wayback machine than fogging the frame or adding a sepia tint to the color.
Casey is already entertaining second thoughts about her upcoming wedding to fiancé Jared. After a drunken getaway with her girlfriends results in body shots with another man and a missing engagement ring come morning, Casey knows she and Jared really need to talk. Yet as those nuptial doubts continue snowballing into increasing anxiety, there is also the mysterious bug bite on her body giving Casey more cause for concern.
Casey brought something other than guilt home with her from Costa Rica. She brought back a festering pustule that will not stop spreading. It isn’t just her flesh that is mutating, either. Casey’s mind is undergoing an even scarier transformation that sees the formerly bubbly bachelorette metamorphosing into something more insect than human.
If you have a friend setting sail for a tropical trip, show him/her “Bite” beforehand and you can wring your hands with perverse delight knowing s/he won’t be sleeping anytime soon. Director Chad Archibald cites his film’s inspiration as stemming from a sister-in-law’s Guatemalan bed net becoming a nightly haven for spiders and insects of all shapes and sizes, resulting in various bug bites that were just as frightening.
Ever wonder what unknown species just brushed past your leg while swimming in unfamiliar waters? “Bite” takes the fear of where that weird bump on your arm came from and amplifies it to an extreme certain to have you brushing a bit harder next time you feel a phantom tug on your skin.
Steeled stomachs craving a challenge may be disheartened to hear that “Bite” is not as physically revolting as the Fantasia furor might lead one to believe. Conversely, that news should come as a welcome relief for those of us who are unimpressed by grossness for grossness’ sake as something’s primary claim to fame. In truth, “Bite” is about as artfully conceived as gross-out gore can be, and there is more motivating its body mutation storyline than simply wishing to trigger a gag reflex.
For instance, Casey vomits repeatedly throughout the film, but the substance she upchucks is a clear-colored lubricant, not a chunky mess. Cheap body-horror movies, “Condemned” (review here) being one springing to mind, focus solely on flinging filth and have nothing to offer beyond bathing everything in bodily fluids. “Bite” keeps skin crawling with a psychological factor paralleling pressures of marriage and parenthood. Its metaphors may be slight, but its intent is above providing pure shock value and nothing else.
Light humor also pops up for additional relief from the egg-laying insanity going on in Casey’s apartment turned hive. Her friend Jill, upon seeing Casey going Jeff Goldblum while webbing putrefies on the walls, nervously quips, “people always get sick after vacations. I’m sure they’ve seen this before.”
Between her initial turn of transformation and Casey’s full Monty, momentum could use more pep. Something positive about director Chad Archibald’s style, as additionally evidenced by his previous efforts “Antisocial” (review here) and “The Drownsman” (review here), is that he has an innate sense of how to use camera and cutting for maximum cinematic effect. Archibald at least knows how to shoot the Hell out of a bathtub by now. Visually, his movies have the same mainstream multiplex-ready polish of a Blumhouse or Screen Gems release.
Referencing the same trio of films however, something still in need of work is amplifying the acting. Roles such as Casey’s flighty friend, her milquetoast man, and sneering mother-in-law are already flat by nature of being stereotypical. Pull more passion from those performances and the characterizations would benefit from a personality infusion. In one way, it works for the narrative that someone such as Jared is such an uncharismatic dud. On the other hand, it’s a drag to see the sluggishness in his early scenes.
Growing pains common across Archibald’s current filmography, like scripts centered on people who never seek professional help at the first sign of a serious problem, have room for improvement. “Bite” in particular overburdens itself by inventing new distractions to prevent Casey from making a simple ER visit. But even if you haven’t enjoyed his previous films or are still formulating your opinion, Chad Archibald is making horror movies worth paying attention to, with “Bite” perhaps being at the top of that list.
As much as obvious influences are openly acknowledged, with Cronenberg and “Insidious” being chief among those in play for “Bite,” the reverence for them reads here as tribute instead of exploitation. With its terrific tone of sickly horror permeating throughout and excellent FX, prop, and set work on top, “Bite” emerges as a no-nonsense, traditional body-horror movie with a sleek style of modernity.
Fun Fact: Actress Caroline Palmer cameos as a woman credited as Hannah, the same name as her character in “The Drownsman.” If this is a shared universe situation, then “Bite” clearly takes place first. (Though it would have been cleverer if her dialogue referenced that honeymoon she seemingly never had in the other film.)
Review Score: 75