Bite Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Chad Archibald
Written by Jayme Laforest and Chad Archibald
2015, 88 minutes, Not Rated
Blu-ray released on August 2nd, 2016
Elma Begovic as Casey
Annette Wozniak as Jill
Denise Yuen as Kirsten
Jordan Gray as Jared
Lawrene Denkers as Mrs. Kennedy
Barry Birnberg as Mr. Mathenson
I was able to check out Bite when it was playing the festival circuit a few months ago and my thoughts on the film have not changed since I wrote my original review. The majority of what appears below is in fact that same essay so returning readers may want to skip down to the technical specs and special features section.
While on her bachelorette party getaway, Casey gets bitten by an unseen tropical critter. After returning home with best friends Jill and Kirsten, it is revealed that our bride-to-be has some seriously cold feet. Her fiancé Jared is a nice enough guy with an overbearing mother, but he is really pushing the idea of having kids, something Casey adamantly opposes. She summons the nerve to tell him she wants to postpone, but grows violently ill before breaking the news. She is horrified to discover her bug bite has gotten infected and is leaking a clear, viscous fluid. Jill, Kirsten and Jared are all concerned as Casey withdraws into a reclusive funk. What no one understands or anticipates is that she is changing, and not just as someone embarking on a major life-altering event. Her symptoms are growing more alarming as her body is physically transforming into something unrecognizable. Will anyone be able to save her, or will Casey be able to resist her growing urges to act out in an increasingly violent manner?
Bite is a disturbing tale of a life in transition, as a young woman comes to terms with the threat of being trapped in an unhappy marriage. Instead of treating the material as a psychological terror in the tradition of Repulsion, Bug or The Babadook, the filmmakers opt instead for something closer in nature to The Fly, a literal interpretation of a person being turned into a monster. The first seven minutes are presented in a found-footage format as viewers watch the ladies’ video diary of their trip. When Casey tells her friends she has been bitten in the water, a title card crashes onto the screen, complete with a screeching Insidious music cue that draws more laughs than terror. The story unfolds following the recent trend in films like Hostel and The Human Centipede of frontloading the picture with familiar clichés before pulling the rug out from under the savvy audience members with a middle-act switcheroo.
Elma Begovic (Bed of the Dead) stars as Casey, the anxious bride-to-be whose performance improves as she transforms from bachelorette to beastie. As a protagonist she remains undefined and weak, but comes into her own as she shifts into the role of villain. This is not so much a slight against the actress as it is the director, who appears more interested in the monster scenes than the human dynamic. To her credit, she shares a nice chemistry with her co-stars Annette Wozniak (Secret Santa) and Denise Yuen (Man Underground) as Jill and Kirsten respectively. Wozniak’s character is given an ulterior motive that is revealed too late in the film to matter and the reversal does little more than remove any emotional connection audiences may have built along the way. Yuen bears an odd resemblance to 1970s Karen Black, but Asian, and she fares better in the introductory party sequences than the later dramatic scenes where she is occasionally over the top, again likely a result of poor direction.
Director Chad Archibald (The Drownsman) came up with the original story for Bite, but failed to put much thought into the supporting characters. Jayme Laforest wrote the screenplay and fills in some of the gaps, but it is quickly obvious that the monster elements are given priority. As stated above, the three leads are talented actresses who treat the material seriously, but would benefit from a stronger storyteller. The supporting cast does not get off as lucky as the ladies in that they are essentially filler elements. Jordan Gray (The Lockpicker) is relatively awful as Jared, the overbearing fiancé who is either unobservant or impossibly self-absorbed. His role is central to the plot, yet much of the time it feels like he is an afterthought, a distraction from what is going on with Casey’s situation. Nobody in the film reacts in a believable manner to her obvious illness (i.e. Casey never visits a hospital and nobody calls 911) and it is particularly frustrating when the supposedly devoted Jared behaves as a whiny piece of cardboard. Lawrene Denkers (Liminality) has the thankless role of Mrs. Kennedy, the one-note bitch of a landlord/ future mother-in-law. She remains unpleasant from the moment she is introduced and gives the audience zero reason to root for anything other than her demise.
Where the film excels is in its presentation, and special praise must be lauded on the creative teamwork of production designer Vincent Mokowec and art director Cameron Nash, whose creation of the centerpiece apartment hive is absolutely gorgeous. Working closely with cinematographer Jeff Maher, the trio give Bite an exciting appearance that far outshines its inherent low-budget trappings. The real star of the picture is special make-up effects artist Jason Derushie, whose elaborate work elevates the material to a genuinely creepy level and genre fans will want to keep an eye out for his name on future projects. The dedication to practical effects over CGI is a welcome decision, but when the latter technology appears it is mercifully brief.
Bite is not a terrible movie, but it is an increasingly familiar one that audiences will recognize as a derivative counterpart to stronger titles in the body-horror subgenre. The story is pretty straightforward, but is filled with missed opportunities. It could have been interesting had all of the metamorphosis been a manifestation of Casey’s wedding anxiety, but the fact that everyone else can see the hive in her apartment removes a potentially strong psychological element. There are a few dropped threads that could have led to unique subplots, specifically one regarding the character of neighbor Mr. Mathenson, whose dog Casey walks until it grows fearful of her. Rather than explore the idea of infecting either the man or his dog, we simply never see them again. Is this film worth checking out? Yes, it has a great look, the effects are solid and I would hire the artist in a second, but the rest of the picture...bites.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the picture looks terrific. Colors are strong, blacks are deep and the non-infected flesh tones appear natural throughout. Casey’s apartment becomes an elaborate set piece in the second half of the film and this transfer provides a lot of small-object detail that really showcases the work.
This disc offers the option of a DTS-HD MA 5.1 or 2.0 tracks, either of which is effective. I chose the more aggressive 5.1 mix and have no complaints. Music and effects are well-balanced and grow more impressive as Casey continues to bug out.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Producers Christopher Drew and Cody Calahan join director Chad Archibald for a laid back yet informative discussion on the making of the film. The guys have a lot to say, but occasionally slip into watching the movie or narrating the onscreen action.
Five short featurettes address specific aspects of the production, including the look of the Makeup (6 minutes), working On Set (6 minutes) in Canada and filming on location in the Dominican (5 minutes). Also on hand are tales from the film festival premiere in Fantasia (6 minutes) and the director’s special day in Chad’s Wedding (6 minutes). Members of the cast and crew share their thoughts on each topic, but the makeup segment would have benefitted from talking to the actual artists responsible for the work. Each featurette is entertaining, but could stand to be longer when it comes to discussing the specifics of making the film.