Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Bit – review

Director: Brad Michael Elmore

Release date: 2019

Contains spoilers

Full disclosure – when I watched this, I was unaware that lead actress Nicole Maines is transgendered and took (her and) her character to be the gender she presents as. It was only doing some research prior to writing this that I came to understand that the character is read by some as transgendered also, as the film doesn’t explicitly state this. This is probably an accurate reading as there are non-specific references to the difficulties the character had faced pre-film, which made more sense if read that way. The film works well if you take her Laurel character as a cis-female but perhaps more so if you read the text as her being trans, which also adds a further layer to the socio-political messaging underneath.

he's bit
The film actually struck me, to some degree, as looking to be a female successor to the Lost Boys but more so it owes a feminist and queer allegiance to Mother may I Sleep with Danger. I read some commentary that this is a film that hates men – I’m sure you can read it that way but actually to me it read more that it pushed against (maybe that can be read as hated) male privilege - very much not the same thing.

burning heart
It starts with a voice-over from Laurel about teen vampire movies and that this is where her teen vampire movie starts. We see a man, just turned, with his vampire lover. She starts to disavow him of some of the myths around vampires (such as sunlight, garlic, crosses etc). However their moment is broken as four female vampires walk in – Duke (Diana Hopper), Izzy (Zolee Griggs), Roya (Friday Chamberlain) and Frog (Char Diaz). They grab the lady vampire and attack the man – breaking his leg and, eventually, Duke ripping his heart out. It is set on fire and he goes up in flames as it burns (in this, the one danger to a vampire is fire and the heart must be burnt). Duke suggests they won’t kill the captive vampire, she did what she did for love, but she broke the rule of no male vampires and is sentenced to be placed in the hole for (at least) a year.

Oregon, and it is graduation time for Laurel. She goes to a party with her friend Andy (Matt Pierce) but it isn’t really their scene. They go and talk sat on a flatbed of a truck. Laurel is going to LA the next day, staying with her brother Mark (James Paxton). Andy is afraid that she’ll stay out there and they’ll lose touch (but does half-jokingly ask her to get him a picture of Mark in his underwear). After a farewell with the parents the credits roll as she drives to LA. She gets to Mark’s, finds the spare key, and grabs 3-hours sleep before he wakes her – they’re going out (and does she have fake ID).

Diana Hopper as Duke
They get to the club and the doorman is checking all ID cards, he refuses her because hers is from out of State. However, the four vampire girls have just cut the queue and Duke looks at it and tells the doorman it looks good – given he repeats her words as he lets Laurel in, I read it as she glamoured him (as they term vampiric mind control in this). Laurel and Mark watch the band (Duke watches her from afar) but a guy barges her and knocks her drink out of her hand, to which she reacts violently. The doorman pulls the guy out and she buys herself another drink and is approached at the bar by Izzy, who invites her to an afterhours party – she agrees.

Laurel and Izzy
As they leave an old guy (M.C. Gainey), who she’d noticed staring at her and Izzy, grabs Laurel's arm and tells her not to go – but she pulls away. The place they go to is owned by the four women, Izzy suggests, and a party is full on (Laurel stops at a grate as she goes in, as though she can hear something – it is the entrance to the hole). Izzy takes her to the empty roof terrace; they chat and then kiss. Fade to them after making out and they talk some more and Laurel asks if she can see Izzy again – it is a one-night thing, the vampire confesses, but doesn’t mean what Laurel thinks she means. Izzy bites her. However, Duke intervenes before she can be killed and, suggesting that she likes this one, throws her off the roof – sink or swim…

So, Laurel comes round in the morning and gets herself back to Mark’s and, of course, is then drawn into her new world – a vampire doesn’t fully turn, she is told, until they feed and she is given the offer of a cure. Duke admits that they kill indiscriminately. They do try and target bad men but it doesn’t always happen (we see Duke kill someone who previously raped a girl, but also his friend because he happened to be friends with him, although he is innocent). Likewise, Izzy targeted Laurel almost randomly as the blood of someone you are attracted to is tastier. We discover vampires can fly – there is also evidence of shapeshifting but that seems to be older vampires.

bloody with the Master
Duke had spent years (from the 70s) as a bride of the Master (Greg Hill). When he chose her, she was confused as to her feelings of attraction to him, given that she was a lesbian. However, she grew to realise that he had glamoured her (and the other brides) and forced them to be attracted and in love with him (this theme was, due to the structure, woefully under-explored next to something like Jessica Jones and could have stood a little more depth). When she managed to break free (retaining his charred heart that wouldn’t burn) she made her rules – the important ones being no men and no glamouring other vampires.

lost girls?
So the ladies stick together to protect themselves, it is a defensive move following mistreatment by the patriarchy. As well as primarily preying on bad men we also see vampire hunters who are all men, and representative of the patriarchy and privilege they have rebelled against and still struggle against. Duke very much represents a strident feminism born from a place of escaping absolute subjugation but the film moves towards a more balanced view where male allies might be found and accepted/turned. Laurel, incidentally, comes across as not perfect – there is a self-absorbed, even selfish, aspect to her character that leads to tragic outcomes, which in turn pulls her back from that selfishness. There is a very end of film (closing voiceover) joke about Twilight that was amusing in its self-knowingness but not as funny as the faux-Buffy moment where newly turned Laurel is told she now knows kung fu, when she looks impressed she is told not really.

Laurel bites
If the film struggled it was, compared with Mother May I Sleep with Danger, in not exploring its themes as openly as it might. The impact on Duke of her years with the Master deserved a deeper exploration. There is a moment in a montage with an artist, whose words on feminism they toast (perhaps sarcastically), who is then eaten – this needed exploring more to explain its place in the political discourse – rather than being a throwaway in a montage. However, if we read the film as Laurel being trans, rather than cis, the narrative certainly allowed for the embracing of a trans-woman within the feminist movement and this was a massively positive message.

fanged and self assured
The performances worked well for the main characters. I was especially impressed with Diana Hopper as Duke, who had a glint in her eye and a self-assuredness that worked really well. We get a little bit of character building around Izzy, however the other vampires could have stood a lot more characterisation – a little like the Lost Boys (other than David), they were there but not explored in a meaningful way. There are some nice action bits, but they could have been longer and more explored – though the raid on a hunter HQ was so deftly handled it warranted the sparsity of the action for that scene. Laurel's apparent connection to the imprisoned female vampire, inferred as she walked into the party, needed expanding on.

I liked this. It wasn’t perfect but it certainly wore its politics on its sleeve and had a nice pop-punk vibe. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

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