★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Empowered, woke, and witty, the new vampire film Bit explores how a small band of lesbian vampires survives and thrives in Los Angeles.
Directed by Brad Michael Elmore
Bit goes places that The Craft (1996) only suggested. Knocking down any notions of subtext, this is a movie that is an out and proud lesbian vampire movie. It’s a gender-swapped Lost Boys without any pretense. A coven of young vampires, a self-described group of terrorists at best. And, it’s safety in numbers.
Nicole Maines is in her feature film debut as Laurel, a recent graduate from a small town in Oregon is going down to spend time with her brother Mark (James Paxton) in Los Angeles. It is a classic small-town girl in the big city moment. The first thing that she and Mark do in L.A. is to go out to hear a local band play in the basement of a grungy night club. Neither Laurel or Mark is really at home in the club, and as the two of them awkwardly negotiate their way around the bar and dance floor, Laurel meets a young woman, Izzy (Zolee Griggs) who takes her up to an after-party at a cool warehouse (all modern vampire movies need a cool warehouse hideout), which she claims belongs to her and her friends. Laurel is drawn into the whole atmosphere and is seduced by Izzy into a rooftop romance.
But of course, Izzy is more than she seems. She is… wait for it… a vampire. But before Izzy can finish off her quarry, the charismatic vampire leader, Duke (Diana Hopper), intervenes and suggests that Laurel join their vampire squad, if she can survive the night, and then promptly chucks Laurel off the roof.
Laurel, survives the fall, staggers back to her brother’s house, and plays off her wounds as coming from a drunken stumble. She sleeps for days to recover and then is visited by the full complement of vampire ladies, including wisecracking Roya (Friday Chamberlain) and the exotic Frog (Char Diaz). The girls take Laurel back to their hideout to check her vampire fitness.
Contemporary vampire films also like to establish the rules, and Bit revels in the rules. Duke spells them out:
- Never glamour another vampire
- You kill what you eat. Don’t let them turn.
- Never ever turn a man. They can’t handle the power.
Pretty simple, right? And you know. YOU KNOW that all three of these rules are going to get tested.
The other thing about contemporary vampire movies is that they wrap themselves in the trappings of clan and legacy. Vampire society, which sets up these rules, sets up the hierarchy and pecking order of the vampires. For these ladies, they are currently the top of the food chain, but in order to do so, they had to overcome the Alpha Vampire Lord, Vlad (Greg Hill) and hide his remains for safekeeping.
These ladies have empowered themselves to become enforcers and protectors of both female and vampire kind. They like to prey on peeping toms, abusers, rapists, and the odd bro-vampire hunter they may run across. It is a community where they consolidate their power as protection, because even as powerful as they are, they need each other as protection, and company, and lovers. Remember, they can’t turn any men.
It’s a sign of the times that this film handles the lesbianism matter-of-factly. It’s a bit of a woke take on the lesbian vampire tale. It definitely does not go down the ’70s Vampyros Lesbos or Daughters of Darkness route. So sorry! No nudity! Not that kind of film, folks. It is a function of the film, but it is not CENTRAL to the film. The movie really is about the relationship between master and apprentice, Duke and Laurel, and also brother and sister with Mark and Laurel.
The acting is… adequate. Each of the actors has some quality moments, but there are other scenes where the lines come out forced or flat. I do think that Diana Hopper has a good bit of screen magnetism, she draws attention in every scene she is in. Keep an eye on her career, for sure. Her character of Duke was a great role for her to sink her teeth into. I also would have liked to have seen more of Friday Chamberlain, as her deadpan comedic barbs were always well placed.
It should be noted that Nicole Maines, for those of you who aren’t aware, is a transgender actress, who is also going to be on the TV show Supergirl. Truthfully, you wouldn’t pick it out if you didn’t know. (Either that or my trans-radar is REALLY bad.) Curiously, the IMDb and studio text noted that character Laurel was transgender. Having watched it twice now, it is very difficult for me to draw that inference. There are suggestions of past traumas and difficulties for Laurel, and things that she did… but if there is a trans subtext it is VERY subtle.
All that said, Maines has some growth yet as an actress in order to have a long career as a lead. She is endearing, particularly in a wonderful flying scene between Laurel and Duke, but many times, I think she needed to come out of the mopey character shell to seize on the high drama moments. She often felt a little small, but that also may be the trap of the being the somewhat vanilla lead with the more colorful characters surrounding her. It’s the Disney Princess problem… bland leads, colorful support. Laurel’s character could have been elevated if indeed there was a trans back story that could have been fully explored. There hasn’t been a trans-positive message in any horror film that I can think of. Glen or Glenda? Nope. Sleepaway Camp? NOPE. This could have been that opportunity, but as Maines career expands, that chance just may come.
The good news is that the story is exquisite. The story of how Duke, the leader of the pack dealt with Vlad, the Alpha vampire was a bit of inspirational myth telling. There are scads of cool little tropey moments. Every vampire film has to establish the rules. Does daylight kill them? Do they feed by necessity? Are they addicted to blood? Can they fly? Can they shapeshift? The way Bit handles this has some nice wrinkles, and they fit well into the context of the exposition.
This is a prototype indie horror film. There is not a ton of experience for this cast and crew, and it shows up in both good and bad ways. This is director Elmore’s third film. There is a daringness of new ideas present here, and an enthusiasm for the material for sure. The editing can be a bit stiff at times, and the film is fairly short at around 90 minutes and could have followed up on some threads that were only handled by way of exposition.
Still, it’s a punchy film with some terrific and exciting moments, grounded in a bigger theme, and that makes this film really worth watching. I do love it when a movie’s closing line is a great summation of the themes in the film:
“I picture a world where everyone is a vampire. Because then we’d all be faced to deal with each other until we figure our shit out.”
Bit will be showing at the Popcorn Frights Film Festival, August 8-16, and is not yet rated. I would peg this as an R, for language and a fair bit of bloodletting. This would be about a 13 out of 30 on the Bridge too Far Meter, nothing particularly disturbing visually.