If there’s one subgenre of horror so malleable that it can mold itself to any theme, vampires would be the best contender. Whether they’re imposing, ancient creatures of the night, or simply teenage rapscallions with an aversion to the sun, each of these bloodsuckers comes with their own mythos that makes them special. As filmmakers don’t all come from the same walks of life, it’s understandable that their interpretations of vampires differ from one another.
In Brad Michael Elmore’s Bit, we meet a clique of vamps whose unadulterated contempt for males is quickly made evident when they murder a peer’s new beau and then proclaim “No f—ing boys.” After, the film opens with teenage Laurel (Nicole Maines), leaving her idyllic suburban hometown to crash with her older brother Mark (James Paxton) in Los Angeles for a few months. There, she falls head over heels with said group of vampires led by the enigmatic Duke (Diana Hopper). Laurel eventually struggles to maintain her humanity while succumbing to the otherworldly allure of her new identity.
After having been teasingly broached in the past in other genre entries like Dracula’s Daughter, the seemingly novel concept of vampiric feminism came to frank fruition in Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Now, Bit director and writer Elmore (Boogeyman Pop), adds to the discussion by presenting to us a female coterie with utter disdain for whom they consider to be the lesser sex. Duke and her cohorts entice men with their charms — both supernatural and physical — before discarding them like dirty paper plates. When they meet Laurel, though, they retract their fangs and invite her to join their “no boys” club.
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“Duke and her cohorts entice men with their charms — both supernatural and physical — before discarding them like dirty paper plates.”
Early on, we learn that Laurel is transgender based on an awkward conversation she has with a former classmate. His drunken confession of how he admires her for transitioning sets up the understandable low tolerance Laurel has for patronizing platitudes. She even asks her brother if his L.A. friends are going to behave similarly; he says people “aren’t like that” there before he amends his answer with “as much.” So it’s already established that Laurel has had it pretty tough when it comes to being her true self.
There is a powerful significance to Duke‘s misandrous house accepting Laurel so readily. Although Laurel is transgender, they only view her as another woman. They are unequivocally accepting, unlike many people Laurel has encountered in the past. This act comments on the discourse between cisgender individuals — whose gender identity reflects the sex assigned at their birth — and trans people. Broken down, the dissension stems from those regarding trans people by their biological sex above all else. Duke and her friends don’t apply to that standpoint, which is refreshing to hear and see amid a hotbed of opposing arguments today.
Nicole Maines is new to acting, but she’s well-known for her part in the groundbreaking Doe v. Regional School Unit 26 case in 2013. After Maines was refused the right to use her school’s female washroom, the court ruled in her favor saying the action was unlawful. So while Maines isn’t a seasoned actor, she brings personal experience to her role. Moreover, costar Diana Hopper’s approach to Duke is sharp and unobtrusively charming.
For a movie that is keen on inclusion, the other three members of Duke‘s diverse coven aren’t carved out as much as they could be. Izzy (Zolee Griggs) — the vampire who turned Laurel — starts off as the love interest, but that subplot is soon abandoned. And due to what could be distracted writing, Roya (Friday Chamberlain) and Frog (Char Diaz) don’t feel integral enough to the story, and they visually teeter on stereotypes. Laurel‘s best friend Andy (Matt Pierce) from back home regretfully surrenders to an exhausting trope pervasive in queer cinema of yesteryears. The two leads are indeed well-imagined, fleshy characters, but the supporting female cast comes off as too one-note.
Altogether, Bit suffers from a lack of indelible imagery. Which is disappointing seeing as this is a vampire flick after all. Ailing, head-on close-ups run rampant, and proper staging could have enhanced long shots. On the other hand, the soft lighting and warm palette make certain the movie doesn’t come off as stifling. And the film’s apogee is without a doubt Duke‘s illuminating origin story.
Elmore’s bright script is askew yet more diverting than not; he challenges norms and conventions of both real life and fiction with his determined writing. The coinciding conversations alone about misogyny and intersectional feminism are touched upon in a way that leaves room for dialogue after the credits roll. That’s not to say there isn’t more to address when it comes to these ongoing issues, but Elmore wisely plays it safe. Moral absolution is not always the best method for filmmakers as it limits the audience’s own inference.
“With a nuanced, resolute bite[..] Bit shakes things up as well as revives some interest in stagnant vampire cinema.”
Bit has by no means reinvented vampire horror. At its core, it retells the tale of a newcomer being entranced by a gang of dangerous strangers. We’ve seen it all before. What makes the film stand out is its insertion of pressing social messages and casting a trans actress to play a trans character. Mainstream cinema has a long way to go in that second respect. Suffice to say, we’ve had plenty of vampire films, but a staggering amount of them have characters engaging in conventional and hetero-normative behaviors at the end of the day. With a nuanced, resolute bite, however, Bit shakes things up as well as revives some interest in stagnant vampire cinema.
Bit is currently touring with screenings across the genre festival circuit. The film celebrated its world premiere at the Inside Out festival in Toronto on May 24, 2019, and is currently playing at Popcorn Frights in Florida.