Director: Chad Archibald
Screenplay: Jayme Laforest (story by Chad Archibald)
Stars: Elma Begovic (Casey Morgan), Annette Wozniak (Jill), Jordan Gray (Jared Kennedy), Lawrene Denkers (Mrs. Kennedy), Denise Yuen (Kirsten), Tianna Nori (Joanne), Caroline Palmer (Hannah), MarieBeth Young (Swat Officer), Christopher James (Swat Officer), Cameron Nash (Apartment Paramedic), Derrek Peels (Hazardous Material Officer), John Cross (Hazardous Material Officer), John Migliore (Scientist), Sofia Stefou (Scientist)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 2016
Country: CanadaBite
BiteChad Archibald’s micro-budget body-horror shocker Bite probably won’t do much for tourism in Costa Rica, where the film’s opening found-footage moments take place. We watch as Casey Morgan (Elma Begovic) celebrates her bachelorette party week with her best friends Jill (Annette Wozniak) and Kirsten (Denise Yuen). They hang out on the beach, party it up at the clubs, freak out about a bug in the bathroom, and, after following the advice of a skeevy local, wind up in an isolated, off-the-tourist’s-path spring deep in the jungle where Casey is bitten by something under water. “It’s just a bite,” she says, at which point the film’s title blares onto the screen with a blast of portentous music.

Casey’s bite is not just any bite, as she soon discovers when she returns to her New York apartment (at this point the film shifts from found-footage mode to an elegant, burnished cinematic look). Casey’s apartment is just down the hall from her fiancé, Jared (Jordan Gray), who surprises her with an antique high-chair for when they’re ready to have children, something we learned in the opening moments that Casey has no interest in doing. But, as it turns out, that is hardly the only problem with their engagement. The building in which they live is owned by Jared’s overbearing mother (Lawrene Denkers), who loathes Casey and does nothing to hide it. Mrs. Kennedy’s insistence that Casey and Jared stay sexually pure until the knot is tied is also causing friction, as are the general pressures of organizing a wedding.

And then there’s that bite, which starts festering and oozing yellowish pus and growing much larger than any ordinary bite should grow. Casey is unable to eat and throws up stringy bile whenever she tries. And her senses start to change as well, as her hearing becomes hyper-attuned and her mood becomes increasingly brittle and irritable. And it isn’t too long before she is well on her way to transforming into some kind of horrific human-something else hybrid, one that (ironically for Casey, the reluctant wife and mother) gives birth to tens of thousands of tiny, gelatinous eggs that cover her apartment, along with sheets of stringy, gooey, semi-translucent secretions that turn the previously chic urban space into a gangrene-colored cavern that Casey refuses to leave. This naturally raises the interest of her family of friends, none of whom do well to enter her lair.

Archibald, who has directed four low-budget horror films and produced more than a dozen others (none of which I have seen), certainly knows the genre and has no problem letting his inspirations show. There are bits and pieces of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) and Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) and James Cameron’s Aliens (1986), although the most obvious film to which Bite owes a debt is fellow Canadian David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of The Fly, which similarly follows in grisly detail a character’s physical and psychological degeneration and metamorphosis. Archibald (who concocted the story, with Jayme Laforest scripting) swaps the gender, making the protagonist an independent woman who is reluctant to commit herself for life, rather than an introverted male scientist. There are some interesting possibilities here, and Bite gets some traction out of the grisly irony of a reluctant mother spawning thousands of eggs that she refuses to leave. There is also an uncomfortable hint of reactionary punishment in the film, as Casey is bit during her raucous, possibly infidelity-laced bachelorette party, more and more of which we see via video on her computer. Is her metamorphosis into a grotesque mother some kind of punishment for her feminine independence, rebellious streak, and refusal to submit?

It is hard to know if Archibald had such thoughts while making the film, as most of his cinematic energy is given over to ensuring that everything is as gross as possible. Bite immediately entered into legendary status when Mitch Davis, cofounder of the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal, tweeted about two people fainting and one person vomiting during the film’s premiere there, which led to an ambulance being called to the theater. Archibald clearly hoped for such a reaction, as he passed out Bite-emblazoned vomit bags to audience members at the festival, a ballyhoo gambit previously used by director Hershell Gordon Lewis and producer David Friedman for Lewis’s gory drive-in shocker Blood Feast (1964). Squeamish viewers—especially those who are unnerved by gross bodily processes and slimy substances and colors that look like the innards of a cockroach—will likely find the film difficult to stomach, while aficionados of the genre are sure to get a kick out of Archibald’s penchant for the grotesque.

The film’s production values—the cinematography, the music, and especially the production design and practical make-up effects—are all so good that it makes one wish that the film had had more depth. As is, it is an expertly rendered gross-out that never takes itself too seriously, although there are times when you wish it had taken itself a little more seriously. Some of the more cartoonish elements, especially Lawrene Denkers’s over-the-top mother-in-law from hell, detract from the film’s mounting horror and feel amateurish. I also wished that Archibald had found clearer connections between Casey’s gooey predicament and her character pre-bite, which is hastily sketched and not very compelling, unlike Jeff Goldblum’s sympathetic introvert in The Fly (which was, in essence, a romance about the horror of losing a loved one to old age or disease) or Ashley Judd’s desperate waitress in William Friedkin’s Bug (2006), another film to which Bite owes a debt. None of this makes Bite a bad horrorshow—it does what it sets out to do quite well—but you can’t help but feel that there could have been more than just gallons of shimmery ooze and thousands of gooey eggs.

Copyright ©2016 James Kendrick

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Overall Rating: (2.5)

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