31st Aug2015

Frightfest 2015: ‘Bite’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Elma Begovic, Jordan Gray, Annette Wozniak, Denise Yuen, Lawrene Denkers | Written by Chad Archibald, Jayme Laforest | Directed by Chad Archibald

bite-image

Chad Archibald has been making quiet a name for himself in genre cinema (and in my movie collection) over the past few years, whether it’s producing awesome action movies like Bounty Hunters, starring WWE’s Trish Stratus; or more horrific fare like Hellmouth and the fantastic Antisocial. More recently Archibald has also directed a number of horror hits, including last years Frightfest film The Drownsman and this years cause célèbre, Bite. Which has, if you believe the hype, been causing a furore at screenings around the world, with walkouts and vomiting amongst other audience afflictions…

Bite tells the story of bride-to-be Casey, while on her hen party getaway to exotic Costa Rica, gets a seemingly harmless bite from an unknown insect while bathing in an idyllic jungle pool. But after returning home with matrimonial cold feet, she starts exhibiting alien behaviour as what crept under her skin starts taking hold. Between physical transformation and wedding anxiety, Casey succumbs to her new instincts and begins creating a hive that not only houses her translucent offspring, but also feeds on flesh.

The horror movie is, in many cases, often used a metaphor for a much grander concepts. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was a metaphor for racism, whereas the sequel spoke on consumerism. Slasher movies, long thought of as the nadir of the genre, are in many cases metaphors for themes such as conservatism and sexuality. Even “torture-porn” movies like Saw and Hostel can be considered as metaphors for post-9/11 America – terrorism, xenophobia and the increased military use of force in retaliation. And Bite is no different…

This particular grim body-horror uses its gross-out, slime-filled story as a metaphor for insecurity, self-loathing and bad body image – the real personal issues of our protagonist Casey, which are only exacerbated by doubts about her impending wedding and her domineering mother-in-law to be. Her transformation is less about the bite she has received and more about the doubt and guilt that she is racked with which could destroy her “ideal” future (whether marriage is Casey ideal future is up for debate).

At its heart though, Bite is a body-horror film and where would the (sub)genre be without its grisly effects? This film certainly does not disappoint in the gruesome stakes. However – much like they do with the tension – Archibald and co. don’t dive in head first with the gore and grue. Instead they build things slowly, the gruesome, often slimy, effects developing from a mere infected bite to a LOT more, including some spectacular tadpole-esque egg sacks that proliferate Casey’s apartment. Speaking of which… It’s not only Casey that transforms, her home becomes a “creature” in itself as now bug-like Casey makes her apartment more homely for her growing brood.

It’s a credit to both Chad Archibald and his co-writer Jayme Laforest that, despite her actions (which include a number of murders, shocker!), Casey is still very much a sympathetic character. We spend just enough time with her to realise that Casey is as insecure as we are, that she too – even whilst she’s changing – is still, at her core, very human. That point is hammered home by a stunning debut role for actress Elma Begovic, whose performance as Casey is note-perfect, making the audience walking a very fine line between empathising with her and fearing her!

A film that clearly wears its influences on its sleeve. Bite is strange and claustrophobic tale of sexuality, horror and bodily fluids recalls the best of David Cronenberg (Rabid, Shivers, The Fly), even echoing of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion in the isolated madness of Casey’s condition. And as such is unmissable.

****½  4.5/5

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