Overview: A young woman undergoes a startling transformation after receiving a bug bite during her bachelorette vacation. Shout! Factory Films; 2015; NR; 90 minutes.
Video Nasty: From Gregor Samsa to Seth Brundle, we’ve encountered our share of memorable human to insect transformations. Chad Archibald’s Bite relies on this pre-existing knowledge and the film fulfills all of the checklist requirements of what audiences expect from these types of stories. The surprise of Bite isn’t that it subverts tropes, but that it fully embraces them without reservation. While Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and David Cronenberg’s The Fly utilized their characters’ body horror as a means to comment on identity, loneliness, science, and sexuality, Archibald’s central concern with Casey’s body horror in Bite is how much bodily fluid can his viewers’ gag reflexes reasonably handle. Oh sure, Casey’s transformation is supported by plot points that involve her anxiety about her impending marriage, and a supporting cast of broadly drawn characters, but Archibald doesn’t seem particularly interested in looking at any lasting examination of adulthood or maturity through his characters. No, Bite is throw-back horror, an 80s video-store flick that thrives on its gallons of goo and gore.
The set-up and establishment of Casey’s daily life seem perfunctory, necessary sacrifices to extend a story that would work as a short film into a feature. To Archibald and the cast’s credit, these obligatory matters of domestic spats and strained relationships are handled with patience, if not a complete commitment to character logic or subtly. It’s the moments where Casey begins exhibiting strange symptoms that the talents of those involved are most apparent. There’s a sense that the film is itching to get to its most horrific aspects, to dispense of the awkward dinners, phone calls, and conversations with a bitchy soon-to-be mother-in-law, and deliver on the promise of acid bile and freshly birthed insect eggs.
Metamorphosis: As effective as the film’s practical effects are, there’s a lot that Bite owes to Elma Begovic’s performance as Casey. There’s an unknowable quality to the character, one that partly stems from Casey’s unsureness in herself but also Begovic’s quiet and measured reactions that become more insect-like as the film progresses. While Bite is a film that could easily veer into high-camp with performances that match the over-the-top nature of the effects, Begovic’s quiet consideration of how much to display provides the film with a compelling transformation that stems from pain instead of the more bombastic anger. Begovic’s performance, eventually aided by the notable production and sound design in Casey’s nest-like apartment, provide Bite’s most effective moments of genuine unease.
Overall: While Bite doesn’t offer anything new to the body horror subgenre, there’s admittedly something refreshing about how unconcerned it is with aiming for any new heights. Without the potential gimmicks of an 80s soundtrack or day-glow atmosphere, Bite delivers the kind of throwback horror that was once promised to fans who pursued the horror aisle of video rental stores in search of the sickest VHS cover. Lacking any pretense, Bite almost completely succeeds at being the B-movie horror flick it wants to be, and it does quite a fine job at putting that gag-reflex to work.
Featured Image: Shout! Factory Films