J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, October 23, 2015

CIFF ’15: Bite

Oozing pus is generally white, so it should be perfectly fine for a wedding. Casey sure has a lot of it going on, but if truth be told, the bride-to-be already had serious cold feet before leaving on her bachelorette getaway. Unfortunately, she came back with a nasty case of body horror in Chad Archibald’s Bite (trailer here), which screens during the 2015 Chicago International Film Festival.

While carousing in Costa Rica, Jill constantly films everything, but not because this is a found footage movie. She is just annoying. However, the source of her passive aggression quickly becomes apparent. She has long carried a torch for Jared Kennedy, the fiancé Casey is considering jilting. Still, they have plenty of Latin American fun, despite the mysterious whatever that bit Casey while she was bobbing in a secluded swimming hole. In fact, she had so much fun, she even lost her wedding ring.

Obviously, things are awkward for Casey when she gets home, especially since she feels like death warmed over. She comes close to breaking it off, which seems like an even better idea after a frosty encounter with her prospective mother-in-law, who also happens to be her landlord. However, her body starts to change before she can do anything decisive. Her bite wound festers something fierce, leaking grossness everywhere. Her skin gets scaly and her behavior takes a belligerent, anti-social turn. Suddenly, there are red mutant caviar eggs from Hell all over the apartment. Yet, we are told the smell is the worst of all.

So yeah, body horror. Yet, Bite is way grabbier than most Kafka knockoffs because of Casey’s sharply drawn relationships with her friends, “cool chick” Kirsten and uber-bitch Jill. In fact, Archibald and screenwriter Jayme LaForest depict their conversations and interactions with a lot of truth and attitude.

Of course Bite is first and foremost about goo and disturbingly colored bodily fluids. Clearly, special makeup artist Jason Derushie had a field day crafting one freaky effect after another, the grossness of each should well please genre fans. Still, Elma Begovic gives a really solid performance under all that gook. Denise Yuen is also refreshingly down-to-earth and sensitively engaging as Kirsten. On the other hand, it is hard to understand why anyone would be interested in a shrinking violet like Jordan Gray’s Kennedy, with his anemic Justin Bieber facial hair.

Although Bite does not reinvent body horror, it executes the Cronenbergian subgenre with superior characterization and gross-out effects. Frankly, it might be Archibald’s best film to date, representing a major improvement over Ejecta and The Drownsman. Recommended for horror fans in the mood for some claustrophobic grotesqueness, Bite screens tonight (10/23) and tomorrow night (10/24), as part of this year’s Chicago International Film Festival.

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