There’s something about film festivals that induces far more extreme reactions than normal in audiences. When Bite premiered last year at Fantasia there were reports of people fainting, vomiting and requiring an ambulance be called. Which is great news for the marketers, because with reactions like that, you can’t not watch it. Advanced notoriety of the sickening revulsion a film causes is all well and good, but is the film itself actually worth watching? Short answer: yes.
Although as Bite begins it appears to be another found footage movie, rest assured that only its opening of an exotic pre-wedding holiday is shown in the dubious style, and the recording’s existence actually comes into play later in the film. During all this girl time the bride-to-be Casey is bitten by an unknown insect while swimming in an out of the way lagoon, an event that seems innocuous at first but is soon revealed to have unpleasant consequences for Casey and everyone around her.
Bite takes a little while to truly get going. The presentation of Casey’s relationship with her bland but enthusiastic fiancé Jonah slows the story, while her clashes with her prudish and perpetually judgemental future mother-in-law run a little close to caricature. However, these are necessary moments of character development and only minor niggles, and once out of the way the film’s strength of purpose comes to the fore, resulting in a body horror as much psychological as it is physical. It’s never investigated, let alone revealed, exactly what it was that bit Casey or why it caused her to begin a gradual transformation into an insectoid chimera, and in truth it’s not all that important. What matters is how her mind and body are being irrevocably altered and the journey of personal torture it forces her to undergo.
Before long, boils swell and begin oozing pus and ichor, her skin hardens into chitin, her teeth begin chattering in imitation of the clicking of an insect, and her eyes become empty and vacant as she searches for emotion she no longer feels as though it were a distant memory she can’t quite recall. The diminishment of her human life is fused with the insect influence in a particularly sickening dream sequence similar in theme and equally as disturbing as the one in The Fly, a film from which much of Bite’s inspiration appears to have been taken.
Like many creatures of classic monster movies, Casey is a tragic figure. A victim of circumstance through no fault of her own, she is forced into the role of villain as the metamorphosis into which she has been shackled forces her to become driven by inexorable biological urges she neither wants nor can control. Although she is driven to ever more become the monster that her increasingly grotesque appearance implies, rather than being consumed by her new inhuman nature, it’s the selfishness and thoughtlessness of those around her that ultimately pushes her to the extremes.
Bite will likely make you feel uneasy and more than a little nauseated, but the way it makes you suffer along with its protagonist instils a masochistic empathy that keeps you sympathetic towards her no matter how outwardly repulsive she becomes.
BITE / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: CHAD ARCHIBALD / SCREENPLAY: JAYME LAFOREST, CHAD ARCHIBALD / STARRING: ELMA BEGOVIC, JORDAN GRAY, ANNETTE WOZNIAK, DENISE YUEN, LAWRENE DENKERS / RELEASE DATE: 10TH OCTOBER