“Unrelentingly fierce, feminist, and queer.”
“We’re made to be monsters, so let’s be monsters.”
While on the surface Bit (2019) may seem like just another campy teen horror film, the reality is that it offers its audience far more than mindless entertainment. Written and directed by Brad Michael Elmore, the film provides a feminist critique of patriarchal society through the lens of a queer coming-of-age vampire story. It also takes a stab at established vampiric myth, rewriting the rules of what can and can’t be done by—and to— the supernatural beings. However, the tropes that Bit subverts extend far beyond those of the genre.
In the film, 18-year-old Laurel (Nicole Maines), is a high school graduate who decides to take off to Los Angeles for a few months while figuring out what to do next. Since her brother Mark (James Paxton) already lives there, she figures it’s the perfect opportunity for her to experiment with the lifestyle. But after Laurel befriends a group of girls during a night out on the town, she finds herself being led down an unexpected and dangerous path. Her new friends, Duke (Diana Hopper), Izzy (Zolee Griggs), Roya (Friday Chamberlain), and Frog (Char Diaz) happen to be vampires— and they want Laurel to be a part of their girl gang.
Perhaps what’s most remarkable about Bit is how inherently queer it is. With a transgender protagonist and several other female characters who are shown to be explicitly interested in women, Bit treats sexuality as another aspect of identity rather than the sole focus of its plot. The film primarily interrogates queer identity through the constructs of vampire and woman as ‘other’, exploring what it means to exist in the world as both. It’s also worth noting that Maines herself is transgender, which further contributes to the film’s intersectional queerness.
Despite the fact that the writer and director of Bit is a man, the film itself manages to command the female gaze with deliberate intent. There’s no unnecessary shots that linger on a woman’s body for a moment too long, or oversexualized depictions of queer female sexuality meant for male consumption. Instead, the moments of intimacy between women are shown in a way that feels authentic and normalized. The film also critiques patriarchal norms, with its female characters unafraid to express their disdain towards the way in which society treats them. They’re shown enacting violence against men on several occasions, partially due to their vampiric nature but also out of their desire as women to strike back against their oppressors.
“I picture a world where every woman is a vampire,” Duke says to Laurel at one point. “Let men be the ones who are afraid to fucking jog at night.” To her, being a vampire is all about power and control, asserting her dominance over those who society tells her she should fear. And as the unofficial leader of the “Bite Club” as she jokingly refers to it, the rest of the girls play by her rules. However, the vampire sorority in Bit is one formed out of a perceived necessity, less about belonging to a group than it is about exercising individual agency. The girls choose to band together because there’s safety in numbers. They’re aware that the very nature of their existence poses a threat to society— not only as women, but as queer women and vampires.
Over the course of its hour and a half runtime, Bit grapples with questions of morality, identity, and even mental health, engaging with these themes in a way that feels pointed yet thoughtful. As she fights the compulsion that comes with her new life, Laurel becomes more and more withdrawn from her old one, leading to strained relationship dynamics on both sides. Her internal struggle is portrayed with sympathy, thanks in large part to Maines’ standout performance. She plays Laurel with a strength and vulnerability that feels effortless, bringing the necessary emotional weight to the role.
Maines is a dynamic presence onscreen, and her first feature film doesn’t lack substance, allowing her to sink her teeth— in both a literal and metaphorical sense— into its material. Because of its unrelentingly fierce, feminist, and queer approach to toxic masculinity, Bit is a refreshing take on the horror genre that demands to be seen.
Dir: Brad Michael Elmore
Prod: Vertical Entertainment, Provocator
Cast: M.C. Gainey, Nicole Maines, Diana Hopper, James Paxton
Release Date: 2020
Available on: iTunes, Google Play