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by Jay Seaver

"Plenty gross, but lacks a certain...?"
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Bite" is the sort of horror movie that puts just enough effort into its characters and story that it initially seems like there might be something to it beyond the gross-outs. It's not quite up to that level of quality, but a whiff of ambition on what is basically a gore movie is always welcome, even if it doesn't quite come together into the sort of thriller that one can point at and say that there's more to it than initially meets the eye.

It starts out in what looks like found-footage territory, as three women on a bachelorette trip go to Costa Rica. Bride-to-be Casey (Elma Begovic) has colder feet than one might hope - she's not nearly as enthused by the prospect of having children as her finacé, for starters - enough that her friends are advising her to call the wedding off, though Kirsten (Denise Yuen) tends to talk about what's best for her while Jill (Annette Wozniak) about how it's not fair to Jared (Jordan Gray). They hear about a beautiful hidden spring, but appear to find the wrong one, and the bug bites Casey sports by the time they head home are probably worse than they appear.

Things shift to a third-person perspective when they get back north of the border, and as the size of the cast doubles - we also meet Jared's mother (Lawrene Denkers) and the elderly neighbor whose dog she walks (Barry Birnberg) - the average goes down a bit; this second wave of characters tends to be one-note or exaggerated. Sure, Lawrene Denkers does a commendable head-first dive into making Mrs. Kennedy the sort of potential mother-in-law that can make someone question every romantic impulse that led them to the cusp of marriage, but once things get back to North America, the natural-seeming interactions from before are replaced with plot that seems fairly forced.

Worse, it never really connects with the metamorphosis that Casey is undergoing. There's a sort of surface-level irony to how the woman who was not comfortable with the pressure to have kids is gaining a fierce maternal instinct for the egg sacs that are starting to fill her apartment, but that idea hangs there; it doesn't feel as though director Chad Archibald and co-writer Jayme Laforest are pursuing a metaphor or even striving to give anybody an ironic comeuppance; they're mostly just walking through other events to keep the gross stuff somewhat fresh when they come back to it, often with fairly weak reasoning for the characters doing something (or nothing) to keep things on track.

And, hey, they do fairly well at grossing the audience out; even if the insect eggs do bring to mind larger versions of the fruity candy beads you find at the self-serve yogurt places, that does make them uncomfortably squishy and full of red stuff that you don't really want to see smeared all over the place, and a colorful contrast to insect-monster staple of vomit corrosive enough that you can really see the digestive enzymes working. Casey's apartment becomes queasily filthy, as for Casey herself, well, here's hoping that Elma Begovic didn't develop any allergies where prosthetic make-up is concerned, because that crew does a number of pretty good jobs on her, whether from bites that unsettle both because of their number and their tendency to ooze or the full-body job she winds up sporting as the film gets into the home stretch.

Newcomer Begovic does offer more than a willingness to spend a lot of time in the make-up chair; she makes Casey a fairly likable type even if she is at times a rather passive character defined more by not acting when she feels something is wrong rather than what she does, squeezing what she can out of what little the script gives her. Jordan Gray isn't quite as able to do so - he's not able to make Jared quite charming enough or opportunistic enough for the fast-arriving nuptials to make sense. Denise Yuen and Annette Wozniak do well enough as different types of friends for Casey.

This group of filmmakers is cranking out movies pretty quickly - they another production at the festival ("Antisocial 2") in addition to talking up a fairly ambitious slate beyond that - and I wonder if slowing down some would benefit them. They do fine blood & guts, but a little more time and effort put into other areas here could have made "Bite" genuinely interesting. Instead, it's a disposable horror movie with decent gore, for better or worse.

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originally posted: 09/24/15 09:22:38
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

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