Review: BITE lacks teeth

In the past year, scientists have identified more than 18,000 new species of animals, most of them insects, such as the Deuteragenia ossarium, a wasp discovered in China that stuffs its subterranean nest with dead ants to protect its eggs from predators. There are also new species of ants in Africa, bees in Australia, scarabs in Cambodia, beetles in Spain, fruit flies in Brazil and fireflies in California. While some of them might be considered cute—a newly discovered Borneo caterpillar, perhaps—insects are, for the most part, horrifically alien in an HR Giger sort of way, a pest to be swatted down and squashed.

 

Naturally, this makes insects terrific fodder for horror—even if they’ve rarely ever been used effectively on-screen. David Cronenberg’s The Fly and the director’s cut of Guillermo del Toro’s Mimic come to mind, but that’s about it. Now we can add Chad Archibald’s Bite to the list. Premiering at the Can-con horror-fest Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival next weekend, it stars Elma Begovic as Casey, a bride-to-be who’s bitten by a bug during a tropical getaway with her girlfriends. Once she returns home, the bite becomes infected and she starts to experience strange symptoms—boils, pus, sticky ooze—before going full egg-laying, acid-vomiting, vengeance-seeking Brundlefly.

Indeed, Bite owes a lot to The Fly. In fact, I’d say it owes pretty much everything, as I doubt Bite would even exist if it hadn’t been for the Cronenberg classic. Strange, then, that Bite seems to be simply an exercise in body horror—the transformational special effects are effectively gruesome, as is the set design of Casey’s cocoon-like apartment—without any of The Fly’s subtext (i.e., the fly transformation as metaphor for AIDS, cancer or growing old, the latter being Cronenberg’s own intention) or emotional punch. Instead, we get a very straightforward and retro-feeling creature feature that actually reminded me quite a bit of Afflicted. That’s not a bad thing; Bite is well-acted and the effects, as I mentioned, are suitably gooey. But that’s as far as it goes. None of the characters are particularly likeable, and Casey is hardly sympathetic, even as she mutates into an insectoid grotesquerie, which makes it hard to care what happens to her beyond the question of how far her transformation will go (short answer: not far enough).