Bite Me is a low-budget, quirky romantic comedy about embracing one’s inner weirdness, more than about vampire legends themselves.
Vampires have an undying appeal (poor pun intended). From the silent film Nosferatu from 1922 to the upcoming Nicolas Cage-as-Dracula film Renfield, cinema has literally spent a century flirting with bloodsuckers and dancing with these devils. Film is only one component of this fascination– vampiric myths date back thousands of years to ancient Mesopotamia and had a resurgence through the Medieval period and onwards due to their association with Satanic concepts, a recurring fear in Christendom.
Long before Kristen Stewart was making googly-eyes at Robert Pattinson's pale Twilight character and Stephanie Meyers gave vampires some sparkle, Bram Stoker was mastering the vampire tropes during an otherwise moralistic Victorian era in his novel Dracula. The Bela Lugosi film and countless iterations have played into the character, who's usually accompanied by and lurking near beautiful girls who can't resist his mesmerizing gaze. The massive popularity of HBO's True Blood had its approach, using the phrase "coming out of the coffin" as an allegorical euphemism for the show's LGBTQ-affirming take on the vampire mythology.
That exact phrase is used in director Meredith Edwards' film Bite Me, which is now streaming and available to rent. Whether writer and star Naomi McDougall Jones included the terminology as a referential homage to True Blood or simply lifted it for her own purposes is up for debate, but the film builds upon the show's modernized take on vampirism and runs with it.
If anything, however, Bite Me is about embracing one's inner weirdness more than it is about vampire legends themselves. In fact, the film outright dispels the traditional lore surrounding vampires and destroys the mythology from the get-go, as these vamps are perfectly fine getting a tan in daylight or checking their makeup in the reflection of a mirror; they also don't bite people (that's unsanitary and is literally assault), but instead pay or seek out donors, using lancets, razors or needles to get the small amount of blood they need to survive. They also don't sleep in coffins– that's considered kind of racist to them.
If this all sounds sacrilegious or blasphemous to the vampire canon, that's because the vampires in Bite Me are actually people who simply think they're vampires. These characters (and very real people) believe that they have a genetic condition of sorts that only human blood can alleviate. "Have you tried vitamins?" a character asks sardonically. They have, and they've visited doctors and have gotten test results, but nothing seems to alleviate their 'anemia on steroids' condition except human blood. Perhaps they play into the mythos a bit, attending gothic vampire parties in abandoned cathedrals and dressing up for the part, but otherwise, they're just human beings like everyone else. They have a social clique, they attend church if they want to (even if it's a vampire church with three members in a small apartment), they like picnics, and they post videos on the internet. Vampires — they're just like us!
This condition is termed 'clinical vampirism' (sometimes known as 'Renfield's syndrome'), and more than 50,000 people with it have been listed in psychiatric literature alone. The film navigates this with tact, never judging its characters or insensitively condescending to them as 'crazy.' The audience is granted access to their small community vicariously through the character of James, played by Christian Coulson (best known as Tom Riddle, or Lord Voldemort, in Harry Potter, but also excellent in Peter and John and the Amazon series Mozart in the Jungle). James works for the IRS, and his first big case is auditing a small church called The House of Twilight, along with its member Sarah. He suspects fraud, but things get complicated when he meets Sarah and falls for the blue-haired vampire.
Sarah is an interesting character, played by the writer and producer Naomi McDougall Jones, who actually met a self-identifying vampire on the set of HBO's Boardwalk Empire. She conducted an 'interview with the vampire' (pun still intended) and was inspired to write Bite Me "to make a movie for the real weirdos, for people who don’t feel seen, who don’t feel understood," as she told The Aspen Times. As mentioned, the film is certainly a love letter to the weirdo in everyone, and the story of James' blossoming relationship with Sarah is really a tale of acceptance and learning to respect and honor the differences in others, even if they may seem utterly bizarre to a person.
Whether it's politically correct and insensitive or not, the film makes direct parallels between the vampirism of its characters and the experience of the LGBTQ+ community. The characters in Bite Me face prejudice, have anxiety over 'coming out,' are surrounded by often ignorant misconceptions, and sometimes struggle to be accepted in a world where people demand clear labels. Even James, the uptight British man working for the IRS, has an identity he often feels forced to repress or fears revealing– he sleeps with a robot body pillow named Mellowtron, which was the last thing his father gave him, and James has grown up wishing to be a robot, as well. His mother pushes him to be (and be with) someone he isn't, and he only really feels free for the first time when attending a gothic vampire rave, where he realizes that weirdness is perfectly cool.
The film follows Sarah as the two become more vulnerable, opening up to each other despite their fears of being truly seen and having their respective eccentricities exposed. This is manifested in the best scene of the film, a funny, beautiful love scene where the two slowly disrobe while James reveals detail after detail about himself and his own weirdness. It's an inspiring and heartwarming scene, though the film which surrounds it is often surprisingly not weird enough, given its subject and themes.
In fact, Bite Me succumbs to the exact same tropes of all the rom-com features it seems to willfully distance itself from. These characters don't believe in the kind of love seen in movies, something expressed when Sarah gives the excellent and tender line, "You make me want everything I thought I was better than. You make me want that garbage." Unfortunately, much of the movie is the exact thing Sarah thought she was better than. While not garbage, the film is endlessly derivative of all the clichés and emotionally manipulative techniques romantic comedies have perfected over the years. There's the "delayed epiphany," "the mad dash" to catch up with one's beloved after a "strong assumption" which leads to poor communication and unnecessary conflict, and on and on.
Even the otherwise great music in the film becomes hopelessly susceptible to this. While often rollicking and laden with percussive beats and heavy guitars, the punk-rocky soundtrack disappears completely at certain moments in favor of the exact same predictable strings which always swell up at romantic moments in films. The script, which is very perceptive and funny in places, similarly succumbs by resorting to tired dialogue and humor in places where something much more interesting could be said, or not said– there is an actual need in cinema for romantic comedies with less tacky dialogue and more style, character observation, and directorial skill; L.A. Story and the more recent Palm Springs are good examples.
Of course, if someone is a fan of romantic comedies and doesn't mind a bit of weirdness with the all the traditional sentimental sap and style, then this is probably a great little film that stands out from the rest, at least simply in terms of subject. The real-life vampire narrative is genuinely interesting, both as an allegory and as a way to explore unique experiences and subcultures. The blue-haired Sarah and her group are actually pretty fascinating, especially with the inclusion of Chrissy, played by the woefully underrated Naomi Grossman, who most people unfortunately only know as Pepper from American Horror Story. She brings an energy, comedy, and humanity to Chrissy that is actually one of the most endearing 'rom-com best friend' characters in recent years, and she brings the same magnetism to every character she gets to play (and hopefully there are many more to come).
Bite Me certainly has its moments, but while its subject and characters are interesting, the film which surrounds them is surprisingly not. It dresses up like a vampire, but really it's just another standard, sentimental rom-com.
Awkwafina will go toe to toe with Count Dracula as a part of the cast of the upcoming movie Renfield.
Editor and writer for Movieweb.com. Lover of film, philosophy, and theology. Amateur human. Contact him at [email protected]
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