Bite (2016)

A bachelorette undergoes some strange transformations after being bitten by an unknown insect while on vacation. As her metamorphosis progresses, her life – and her increasingly tense relationship with her fiancé – begins to unravel. It’s The Fly mixed with some weird melodrama.

This one is pretty much the definition of a mixed bag. The tone keeps fluctuating between straight drama and 80s grindhouse without finding a consistent mix, the characterization is all over the place and some of the acting hugely over the top, but the monster effects are excellent, the cinematography is on point, and the sound design does a great job. I never really clicked with any of the characters or understood the dynamics underneath the various relationships, which was a shame, since there was plenty of territory that could have been explored.

There is one element of Bite that I’m unclear about, and that’s the rape subplot that – while relevant to the characters and arguably the true horror of the film – never comes to a satisfying conclusion. It also makes me uncomfortable that Bite, a film primarily about body horror, makes uses the plot point of a monstrous pregnancy in a woman that has so recently been raped – and for a time believes that everything she has experienced is related to that. Especially since Casey, the main character, eventually becomes a monster and goes on to commit monstrous, metaphorical rapes herself. There’s a lot of metaphorical stuff in Bite that’s never unpacked, which left me with some uncomfortable questions.

So, this one’s a mix. It’s got some wonderful camera work and monster effects, and some thematically questionable storylines. Explore at your discretion.

 

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Pod (2015)

Two estranged siblings, Lila and Ed, journey to the family cabin in order to convince their troubled brother to accept medical help. Only it turns out that Martin, a veteran with a long and sordid history of psychiatric problems, has the windows covered with tinfoil, bloodstains on the walls, and somebody – or something – locked in the basement. What results is a long-winded conspiracy that ruins a perfectly good plot.

Pod tries. It really does. The cinematographers pulled out all the old tricks to make a dark, cluttered interior look interesting, and the actors work double-time to give their characters any semblance of depth. Unfortunately, the script really doesn’t give them enough to work with, thrusting them into a chaotic moment without enough backstory to give the audience a reason to care about what happens to them one way or another. There’s some vague sadness in watching someone in crisis while their family members struggle to try and help, but the audience just doesn’t have enough of a hold on who these characters are to find their struggles compelling. Which is a problem, since the plot leaves so many wonderful opportunities for character development that just never come.

The soundtrack never leaves any ambiguity to the scenes, the dialog is solidly delivered but never provides any depth beyond the surface details, and the characters end up screaming incoherently at each other far too often. To be fair, screaming is an understandable and common response to trauma, which Pod has its share of, but unfortunately it’s a behavior that becomes repetitive and annoying when displayed on film.

Brian Morvant did excellent work as Martin, providing the strongest and most interesting performance of the film. Sadly, Pod doesn’t give him much of a character arc or even personality – he’s defined entirely by his illness. It’s a credit to Morvant’s acting ability that he managed to give a compelling performance despite this. I would have loved to see more of him than the little that Pod provided. It might not be enough to watch Pod just for his performance, but it’s worth taking a look if you’ve got the afternoon off.

Infini (2015)

Infini is hands down one of the best scifi-horror films I’ve ever seen. It also took me a while to figure out exactly how it was working. To put it bluntly, this isn’t Star Trek. It doesn’t look like the traditional scifi, nor does the plot go in the expected directions. I can understand why it wasn’t picked up by Hollywood, since it’s a film that doesn’t believe in hand-holding and applies a sink or swim policy as to understanding the plot – the audience will either pay attention, or they’ll miss things. Infini is working entirely on its own rules and doesn’t bother easing the audience into any of it. The film starts with a bang and goes out with a sigh, and has many explosive moments in-between.

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I’m conflicted over how much to reveal in this review, since I feel that Infini does its best work with an audience that goes in cold. The basic story follows a soldier named Whit Carmichael who accidentally gets teleported to an interstellar mining post, where a contagion of some sort has been released, and the search and rescue team that is sent in after him. All of the characters are using implant technology that allows them to travel extreme distances across the galaxy in a matter of seconds, but said technology has an unfortunate tendency to malfunction and cause mental instability in the people who use it. Thus, how the way the story deals with time and how the characters interact with their past and present is…interesting. Without spoiling anything, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film go in this direction before.

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Still, it took me about forty minutes to really understand the visual codes that Infini was working with. This is not a Hollywood picture; don’t go in expecting to know the rules it’s operating on. Infini isn’t afraid to make its audience work to really get at the story and the subtext hiding underneath. It’s not the sort of thing that you can sit down and watch for the hell of it – this is a film that requires some thinking to go along with it.

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Technically speaking, Infini is an amazing achievement. I’m not a huge fan of time travel movies in general, but this one is making me reconsider my stance. This is a movie about confusion and fear, and the jolting pace does a great job in reinforcing the feelings of paranoia that the characters are dealing with. The main conflict in the story is how the characters deal with their instinctual need to survive, and the very real danger of returning home to spread the infection they’ve come across. It’s rare that I see a story, film or otherwise, that so convince displays characters that have been knocked down to their most basic instincts. These people want to live. And Infini wants the audience to realize exactly what that will cost them.

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It’s not pretty. Infini is brutal, mean, and doesn’t shy away from depicting the moments of fear and selfishness that the characters experience throughout the story. Infini puts turns the camera on characters at their very worst, and then adds salt to the wound by giving us tantalizing hits of who these people are at their best. There are no real villains. There are just people trapped in impossible situations. The subtext of economic desperation sprinkled throughout the film make it even more interesting, implying that these people might not be as well trained as they ought to be – but have taken on a dangerous job because they see no other way to support their families. And that sort of mentality is the exact kind that encourages people to turn on each other. Not the sort of thing you want for a rescue operation, but a very real situation for the characters in this story. They have no reason to trust each other when things get bad, because everyone is – quite literally – in it for the money.

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All that being said, Infini did stumble in a few places. The costume design just wasn’t good enough, repeating the generic black scifi uniforms we’ve seen a hundred times before, and I nearly laughed at the prop weapons they picked. The props just don’t look believable, which makes it that much harder for the actors to sell the story. Oh, and speaking of props – that could pretty much describe the roles of the female characters who appear on screen, there to move the plot ahead and with the least amount of character development of the entire cast. Which isn’t to say that what I did see was bad – the women all seemed quite competent at their jobs – but that Infini is focused on telling male stories.

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Still, it does take the time to develop its men of color, so it’s not just the white dudes who get their character arcs. That’s something worth noting.

Whit Carmichael (Daniel MacPherson) in a scene from INFINI, directed by Shane Abbess.

I’ll be singing the praises of this one for a long time yet. Go see it.