It may be a bit rough around the edges, but there’s a lot to enjoy about director Chad Archibald’s Bite. In a day and age when most genre fans feel like they’ve seen just about everything, his take on body horror is boldly refreshing and offers up a few unexpected twists that I genuinely appreciated. Bite also boasts some of the most impressive production design and practical special effects I’ve seen on the indie level in some time, and it is anchored by an effectively unnerving performance by up-and-coming actress Elma Begovic.
Bite follows reluctant bride-to-be Casey (Begovic) to the tropics for a bachelorette weekend with a few of her gal pals (Annette Wozniak, Denise Yuen). What’s supposed to be a relaxing, fun-filled trip ends up becoming a nightmare for Casey in more ways than one. She ends up an intoxicated mess, gets entangled with a predatory stranger, and an innocent swim in the ocean ends with the betrothed being bitten by an unknown creature in the water. When she returns home, Casey struggles with confronting her fiancé (Jordan Gray) about wanting to postpone their wedding and begins to undergo a horrific transformation, as the mysterious bite mutates the young woman into all of the things she ultimately feared about her future.
As someone who also got married pretty early in her twenties, there’s a lot I related to about Bite. Archibald and writer Jayme Laforest manage to capture those overwhelming feelings of doubt and nervousness that can hit you out of nowhere, especially when it comes to committing your life to someone else. Casey’s fiancé is gung-ho about starting a family soon after their impending nuptials, but as we see, Casey isn’t quite sure she’s the mothering type. As her bite takes over her body, we see Casey’s instincts shift as her affliction worsens and her humanity slips away.
Because of the body elements to its story, an easy comparison for Bite is undoubtedly David Cronenberg’s The Fly, and that would be a valid comparison, no doubt. But honestly, Archibald’s efforts do enough to make his latest movie memorable on its own merits, as the indie filmmaker sidesteps many of the expectations that come with the body horror territory, cleverly subverting various genre tropes.
The production design on Bite is also exemplary and truly adds so much to the overall film. Once Casey’s metamorphosis into her insect-like form invades her apartment, production designer Vincent Moskowec transforms her environment into an oozing, dripping, pulsating hive where literally every aspect of the space looks like it’s alive. That kind of tangibility is a fantastic touch, and Moskowec deserves a lot of love for his work on Bite.
The practical effects work on Begovic by Jason Derushie is also great, and I enjoyed how his approach to her monstrous state feels unlike anything we’ve ever seen. It certainly helps that we don’t know much about the origin of Casey’s infector, but that ambiguity works well for Bite and certainly gives Derushie some freedom in terms of his design work.
While Begovic provides Bite with a strong performance that only gets more assured the deeper the story goes, it’s the rest of the cast that trips the movie up a bit and keeps it from being a complete home run. Early on in the film, Casey must contend with her fiancé’s domineering future mother-in-law (played by Lawrene Denkers), and most of those scenes are slightly cringe-inducing to say the least. Bite also opens with footage of Casey and her friends on their trip, and some of those verbal exchanges come off feeling a bit forced as well, which makes for an awkward start (things get right back on track once Casey arrives home, though).
That being said, Bite is still a wholly ambitious affair and a tenacious effort from Archibald, who proves he has a strong grasp of how to make an intelligent horror movie that often defies genre expectations. As an allegory for the struggles many young women face when contemplating their futures, Bite succeeds and also makes for a great showcase for its star, who gives a transformative performance in her first leading role.
Movie Score: 3/5