Review by Caroline Stephenson.
BITE is a welcome, refreshing addition to the body horror sub-genre. A visual treat with solid story, this film will keep viewers entertained in more ways than one.
The film opens with young bride-to-be Casey (Elma Begovic), and friends Jill (Annette Wozniak) and Kirsten (Denise Yuen), enjoying all that Costa Rica has to offer. At the encouragement of a handsome local, the girls decide to hike to a secluded water hole with the promise of beautiful waterfalls and crystal clear pools. It’s here that Casey is “bitten” by something in the water, though she and her compatriots don’t pay it much attention at the time. After all, they’re in the jungle and whatnot.
Upon returning home, however, Casey is confronted with the pressure of her upcoming nuptuals by both her fiancé (Jordan Grey) and his disapproving mother (Lawrene Denkers). To make matters worse, her mysterious bug bite begins to show signs of infection and, with little support of from her friends, she slowly begins to crack under the weight of it all. Instead of seeing a physician for her very apparent medical emergency (which did, in my opinion, go against basic logic… but I will get into that later), she begins to further isolate herself, turning away even her fiancé as her new insect nature begins to slowly take over, both mentally and physically.
And when all THAT started happening, boy, did this film turn out to be everything I had hoped for and more! BITE develops well into a gruesome, cringe-worthy tale that will leave even the most hardened gore-whores squirming in their seats. The film’s FX wizards left no creative stone unturned in making sure this film is as visually stunning as it was sickening.
Elma Begovic’s makeup job, done by Jason DeRushie, was simply spectacular. They did a great job building up the anticipation of the transformation, bit-by-bit. It very clearly reminded me of Jeff Goldblum’s stomach-churning metamorphosis in David Cronenburg’s THE FLY. According to director/producer Chad Archibald, they spent a lot of time researching various bugs, and chose specific elements that would be both fun on their own and simultaneously work with the film’s themes and overall aesthetic. The combination of characteristics worked so well that I never felt like I was asked to accept too much too soon, which is why I completely fell for Casey’s “final form” so effortlessly. If she had turned into a giant bug, and that was it, then the film would have crossed over into the ridiculous. And while that can totally be awesome in other contexts, this particular film was so much more successful this way, and caused her to be a much more terrifying creature in the end.
I also loved that the apartment transformed along with Casey; the more insectile she became, the more hive-like her apartment became. Seeing the place covered in eggs, mucus, and webbing for the first time was totally disgusting, and yet captivating nevertheless. I chuckled to myself when I learned Archibald had scoured the Internet looking for the perfect way to create the egg effects, and eventually found what’s known as “water absorbent pebbles,” which are generally used for hydrating indoor plants. As random as those might sound, I don’t think he could have found anything more perfect for the job.
Most importantly, it’s always refreshing when a horror flick can bring the best in cringe-worthy moments, while also not skimping on the story. When we first meet Casey, we already have a sense that she is unsure about the wedding, and the pressure from her friends and fiancé to settle down serves to create a solid emotional conflict, in what could be—and usually is—just another hollow horror flick. Casey clearly isn’t ready to accept these responsibilities, which society still tells us is the next phase in a late 20-something’s life. Not only does the film shed light on these outdated societal norms, it also does a great job illustrating what happens when a person goes against them. Instead of trying to understand her decision, her friends and fiancé continually try to change her mind, which just widens the rift between them, that ter physical transformation then visually highlights.
This real-world conflict was a great set-up for the rest of film, as Casey was so alienated from the people in her life, she was essentially left alone to deal with her horrific metamorphosis. It was a slow, painful descent into madness, as Casey moved farther and farther away from her human nature, at first against her will before eventually giving herself over to the transformation. Elma Bergovic did a stellar job making Casey a compelling, tragic character. To first reject conventional maternity, and then have it thrust upon in a now supremely discomforting way that she can’t ignore, was sad to watch. In between the shrieking and gagging, there were moments where I really felt for her character, on that human level which kept seeming like a distant memory, even within the moderate runtime. As Archibald said, “The goal was to make a movie about her, instead of a character piece of her running through the streets spraying goo, she’s creating this hive and every time you see her, she’s just deeper and deeper in it.”
One of my only struggles with this film was Casey’s unwillingness to seek real medical attention; a singular phone call to the doctor doesn’t qualify as such, and that being the only moment took me out of the story somewhat. At some point, I have to believe a person will go to the ER, especially when a puss-filled nodule bursts open all over her fiancé’s hand in the middle of sex. (Fantastic scene, though; I almost puked a little.) However, when I make myself attribute her decision to her overall isolation, instead of common sense, I can sort of see how it fits. Sort of.
All in all though, if you’re in any way a fan of body-horror, I cannot encourage you enough to check out BITE. It’s both a gruesome moment delivery system, while also managing to still function as an actual story. There’s really not much more you can ask for.
Check out BITE in theaters, OnDemand, and Digital on May 6th.