Canadian director Chad Archibald has kept himself very busy, churning out two low-budget features in 2015 and showing no signs of stopping. The problems with Ejecta and The Drownsman were more at a script level than anything in the technical sense, but it is imperative that what has been written on the page doesn’t derail before actually going before the cameras. Now, on to his third directorial effort in the horror arena, Archibald goes the gross-out route. Part travel horror story, part marriage-anxiety drama, part transformative body horror yarn, Bite is a commendably disgusting monstrosity of pus, bodily fluids and eggs that’s startling in its goopy, squishy ickiness.
Casey Morgan (Elma Begovic) vacations in Costa Rica with her two best friends, Kirsten (Denise Yuen) and Jill (Annette Wozniak), for her bachelorette party. At first, it’s fun and drinks, but a drunken one-night-stand and a seemingly ordinary bite from an insect in a lagoon end the trip on a bum note. When returning home with regrets, her engagement ring missing, and the surprise gift of an antique baby high chair from workaholic fiancée Jared (Jordan Gray), she begins having cold feet. Her landlord and future mother-in-law (Lawrene Denkers) is already a strict, unpleasant old maid and bugs Casey about not handling her wedding preparations sooner. Casey decides that she needs to postpone the wedding, but before she has a chance to tell Jared, her bug bite gets worse. Her senses heighten. She loses her appetite and begins feeling nauseous. And to think the eventual metamorphosis was all from a little bite.
Sharing the same bloodline not only with 1986’s David Cronenberg-directed The Fly but even 2013’s under seen horror indie Contracted, Bite is nothing if not loud and proud about its own gooey grossness. As a horror filmmaker working on a shoestring budget, Chad Archibald doesn’t try for jump scares but consistently tests that the viewer’s gag reflex is in working order. He even deceives the viewer before the title card with one of Casey’s girlfriends documenting their exotic trip, leading us to think the rest of the film will be shot in found-footage form. Luckily, it’s not, but it goes to show what an economic shorthand the aesthetic can be when it’s sparingly used. The two-tier script by Jayme Laforest is a clever metaphor, paralleling Casey’s bite with the festering doubts concerning her looming marriage and having children. An indelibly cringe-inducing dream sequence of Casey waking up to her friends surprising her with a baby shower one-ups the urination-on-the-floor scene in The Exorcist.
Elma Begovic (making her acting debut) is acceptable in the part of Casey, giving her all and selling the physical transformation, especially with subtle facial and body movements. Everyone else is competent enough to do what is asked of them. A couple of the soon-to-be victims are directed to act so over-the-top and hateful, including Jared’s awful mother and Casey’s supposed friend Jill who’s really spiteful and envious, that there’s no suspense in whether or not they will become bug food. The level of inexperience in the production is apparent in spots—the many exterior shots of Casey and Jared’s apartment building do not help, as it looks more like a warehouse—and the script has its share of wooden dialogue.
Bite might not be as affecting and tragic as The Fly, but it delivers the yucky goods and the level of visual skill with little means is something to be proud of. Once you see all of its sticky, gag-worthy grotesqueries, it’s hard to un-see them. The back-to-basics practical effects are fantastically skin-crawling, especially once Casey’s apartment becomes a slime-covered, lair-like cocoon with what appears to be fish eggs. If Bite doesn’t cause many nightmares, it is still strongly recommended to space one’s meals accordingly when viewing. That more than counts for something.
In select theaters and on VOD May 6th.