As a survivor of Septic Man‘s sewer-sludge yuckiness, I saw Bite‘s disgusting reputation not as a warning, but as an invitation. What’s a little gross-out body horror capable of, really? Sure, Fantasia Festival attendees reported that Chad Archibald’s metamorphosis tale caused viewers to “faint, puke, and need medical attention,” but after watching it myself, I question the constitution of said fainters. Maybe it’s just because I’ve witnessed the worst of the worse (an occupational hazard), or because I’ve been blessed with my father’s iron gullet, but Bite never sent me reaching for a barf bag. While this might disappoint true masochists, Bite doesn’t need perverse gimmicks to win over horror fans – there’s a story worth watching all in itself, even if it won’t make you vomit.
Archibald’s vision (screenplay credit to Jayme Laforest) tells of exotic dangers, when a trio of vacationing hotties let their freak flags fly. Casey (Elma Begovic) – who is celebrating her bachelorette status before getting married – thinks whatever happens at her island resort, stays at her island resort. This includes flirtations actions, paranoids doubts, and debaucherous boozing on mind-erasing levels. She returns home to her boyfriend – Jared (Jordan Gray) – ready to confess her wavering feelings, but begins to feel iller and iller by the day. It turns out that a bug bite she received was more than just a little sting, as Casey’s loss of appetite is only the beginning of a gruesome transformation.
Archibald’s sticky, slimy effects look like a bubble tea factory exploded everywhere – or maybe a caviar food-fight at Johnny Manziel’s house – but eggy larva pods only represent one aspect of Casey’s sickness. Things do get a bit grotesque, so if your stomach turns at the sight of vomit, there may be cause for hesitation here. Many scenes involve a clear, gooey substance that leaks from Casey’s mouth in one way or another, after the bite turns her into a baby-spewing insect host. If you’ve seen Contracted, you already know the puss-running, infection-spreading medical hellishness that Casey must endure.
More interesting than gelatinous embryo sacks are Casey’s adapted side effects, and Elma Begovic’s performance. It’s not the gross-out moments that hook viewers, but more how Begovic reacts to – and develops – each increasingly distressing progression. Bug-like qualities begin to present themselves as time passes, both physically and behaviorally, while Archibald aesthetically steers towards twitchy Kafka-esque madness. Hell hath no fury like an insect-woman scorned…
Begovic plays a sickly wife-to-be well enough, but doesn’t truly blossom until her character becomes an egg-drooling, ooze-spewing creature. Casey’s friends party and worry with equally stereotypical vibes (played by Denise Yuen and Annette Wozniak), and Jordan Grey is certainly side-character-boyfriend material, but Begovic rightfully steals Archibald’s show. Mutated abnormalities aren’t easy to humanize, but even with some lackluster makeup at times, Begovic becomes a nasty, killer Queen worth each spit-take and weirdly textured mouthful of goop.
It’s the campy nature of Bite that pushes Archibald’s film over the proverbial hump, going tongue-in-cheek to an almost pesky length (stopping just short of annoyance). The Drownsman (Archibald’s last film) lacks this jovial appreciation of schlock, but Bite atones for previous sins through continual bug-related quips, foreshadowing, and tie-ins to Casey’s wedding doubts. Archibald and co-writer Jayme Laforest have fun with Bite and never attempt to keep this creepy-crawly feature deathly serious – a smart move. Not only does this stage cheesy one-liners, but more horrific elements find a scenic boost when compared to the lighter-hearted focus.
There’s something so evil about Bite. Archibald takes a common nuisance in our lives (a bug bite), and turns it into a homewrecking, murderous cycle of events covered in a thick, excreted mucus. Everything ties together, from Casey’s parental hesitation to her “slutty ways,” but even better than Laforest’s screenplay is a gleeful commitment to crazy, bug-eyed freakishness. Kudos to Archibald for imagining this swampy, apartment-tied nightmare, as he once again uses water as a connection to pure evil. It’s not the scariest, or the most serious horror movie out there, but B-Movie fans should certainly give Bite a chance.
What Bite lacks in self-proclaimed grossness, it makes up for with weird, wacky creature antics worth a midnight watch.