I love body horror stuff. It’s the only sub-genre in horror that still manages to gross me out (although since my wife and I had kids I’ve grown completely averse to pretty much anything involving toddler/baby death/kidnapping. Even Criminal Minds bothers me now, and that show’s usually a laugh riot). Anyhoo, body horror flicks have been around since the 1958’s The Fly, but it wasn’t until 1977, when a pair of filmmaking Davids named Lynch and Cronenberg each put their own particular spin on the genre with Eraserhead and Rabid, respectively. Cronenberg, however, had already dug in his heels on body horror turf with 1975’s Shivers, and, with Rabid, upped the ante considerably. While Lynch ventured off into weirder and wilder territory, Cronenberg seemed to have found his calling, churning out a virtual greatest hits of body horror classics (including his own, far superior and infinitely ickier take on the aforementioned The Fly) that would serve to inspire generations of filmmakers worldwide.
From Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo the Iron Man to Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever to Tom Six’s The Human Centipede and the recent Contracted - with which Bite shares many similarities, the Cronenberg influence is obvious, and, with each new entry into the body horror sweepstakes, the gross-out quotient is raised in a manner to suggest that any and all comers are invited (challenged?) to somehow elevate the nastiness to new and heretofore unseen levels.
I’m pretty sure that, with 2016’s Bite, a new bar has been set.
Casey (Elma Begovic) and her friends head off to Costa Rica for one last hurrah before Casey’s wedding to Jared (Jordan Grey). The girls live it up, drinking and dancing and soaking up the sun, but, underneath it all, Casey is burdened by a sense of doubt and fear about her future with Jared. On the last day of their trip, Casey is bitten by something in a murky freshwater spring, but she ignores it until she gets home and realizes her bite is infected. The infection spreads, altering both Casey’s appearance and her mental state, with her self-doubt and insecurities about Jared giving way to an insatiable appetite for sex and violence.
Writer/Director Chad Archibald is unwavering in his mission to make viewers retch, giving us lingering close-ups of blisters bursting and pustules…err…pustulating (?). The practical effects work is slavishly detailed and suitably off-putting, but all of this oozing and bubbling flesh would be nothing more than just choice Fangoria magazine highlights without a suitable and identifiable victim, and that’s where Bite truly shines.
Like the best examples of body horror, Bite presents us with a sympathetic protagonist in Casey, and weighs her down with very relatable emotional baggage that heightens the audience’s investment in the character. This makes it all the more difficult to witness her physical and mental decline, heightening the effect of Casey’s gruesome metamorphosis into a tragic antagonist by film’s end. Begovic deftly handles the transformation from blushing bride-to-be to disintegrating diva, and manages to show us glimmers of the soul of the real Casey even in her nastiest moments. It’s not going to net Begovic an Oscar, but, in the realm of body horror, it’s an impressive performance indeed.
Bite comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory, who present the film in a lush 2.35:1 transfer that retains the native nastiness that makes the film so effective. This is NOT a pretty film. Save for the early scenes of Casey’s Costa Rican adventure, much of the film is set in somewhat squalid environs smeared with all manner of body fluids or dimly lit interiors. It’s a grimy look but perfectly suited to the film, and, fear not; the transfer gives you all the grossness in crisp, clear, and highly detailed fashion. Yuck.
Bonuses include an entertaining commentary track by Archibald, as well as a collection of short behind-the-scenes featurettes that include interviews with all the principal cast and crew, as well as a peek at how Archibald and company cobbled this grotesque little film together.
Bite is certainly not for everyone. Obviously the squeamish need not apply, and those unfamiliar with the tropes of the body horror genre may frown upon such grotesque excess. Also, while it’s obviously inspired by Cronenberg, I wouldn’t quite call it Cronenbergian as it lacks the surreal antiseptic environments and aesthetics that, for me, define Cronenberg’s work. That’s actually a good thing, though, as Archibald seems to be following his own path, here, and it’ll be interesting to see where he goes next.
Scream Factory’s Blu-ray offers an excellent transfer as well as a nice collection of bonus materials that will further extend fans enjoyment of the film and comes recommended.