Boy audits girl. Girl drinks blood. Boy and girl fall in love but have to get past their own insecurities to be together. Typical rom-com, right? Wrong. BITE ME is anything but your typical romantic comedy and that is why we need this movie so bad right now. Indie writer/producer/actress Naomi McDougall Jones’ has created the next big movie you haven’t heard about yet but you better see it. It’s got vampires, Christian fanatics, and lots of heart.
BITE ME is a glimpse into a counter culture that doesn’t want to be found. Sarah (McDougall Jones) is a real life vampire with a chip on her shoulder and a tattoo on her face. Ridiculed and closed off from society, she has formed a small circle of friends who also share her strange habit - drinking blood to restore their energy. They are real life vampires and they have just been audited by the IRS for tax evasion. James (played by Christian Coulson) is the straight-laced agent tasked with investigating her case. He’s up for a big promotion and if he can deny Sarah’s claim that vampirism is a real religion, he’ll probably get it. But the unlikely pair have an inexplicable attraction to each other and thus, a romance is born.
BITE ME is the answer to the cookie-cutter rom-coms we’ve come to hate and it works best when it is at its most subversive. It’s subject matter is dark, dealing with vampirism, Christian fantactism, and scariest of all, the IRS. Yikes! But the tone never dwells in the shadows and always brings to light the absurdity of the story. The cliche moment where the two leads make eye contact with obvious undertones of “love at first sight,” is immediately squashed and made fun of by them. These over the top characters are actually more like us than we would like to admit. They’re flawed in unique and interesting ways. The leading man doesn’t have the boring problem of droves of women fawning over him but he refuses to get pinned down. It’s his mother who hounds him night and day. The leading lady isn’t a klutz around the men she likes because that old character trait isn’t funny, it’s insulting. Sarah drinks blood to heal her incurable illness. Now that’s original and fun and yeah, it’s kind of weird, but it’s fun! And yet with these strange quirks, it doesn’t take long for you to see yourself in them.
Director Meredith Edwards has woven together two characters from the opposite ends of society’s spectrum into a believable and heartfelt story. Eun-ah Lee’s cinematography is lush as she takes us on a tour of New York City from the vibrant streets of Manhattan to the dull cubicles inside the IRS to a dark underground Vampire Ball and back to scenic Central Park. Eric Francis Olson’s score drives the intimate mood of the film and is at times haunting. All of the elements move at a swift pace thanks to TJ Misny and Chris Steele-Nicholson’s editing.
In a brief 83 minutes, Edwards and McDougall Jones cover the cliches of Hollywood rom-coms and ask us to reexamine what we’re so used to accepting. Nothing is safe. Dates go wrong but it’s not the slapstick fare we’ve grown accustomed to. It’s awkward and difficult to get to know someone new, especially if you’ve got the hots for them. The movie doesn’t go too far off the deep end with its criticism of cinema but instead focuses on telling its own story. The only in your face point made is the crystal clear comparison between Christian fanaticism and vampirism. There are occasional moments of rushed character development that seem unearned but the film keeps moving to its inevitable ending that I won’t spoil for you here. What’s obvious is the passion and care that Edwards put into her film to make a movie that pleases as well as challenges the audience to ask themselves, “Who am I to judge someone else?” At the same time she reveals the beauty of people who society has labelled unlovable.
The cast is packed full of recognizable character actors and some fresh blood. (See what I did there?) First and foremost, Coulson’s performance as Christian is the anchor of the film. His charm and innocence is infectious and he is a genuine star in the making. You may remember him as Tom Riddle in HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, but you won’t forget him after you see BITE ME. Other cast standouts include Sarah’s roommates, Chrissy and Lily played by Naomi Grossman (AMERICAN HORROR STORY) and Mahira Kakkar respectively. Both have scene stealing moments - Grossman’s are in your face and Kakkar’s are subtle - but both will have you giggling. ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK’s Annie Golden is hands down the funniest actress in the movie, playing Christian’s fanatical IRS co-worker and roommate. Her comedic timing is exceptional and her scenes are my personal favorite. While most character actresses playing a Christian fanatic go off the rails, her reactions and motivations remain grounded in reality and receive bigger laughs because of it.
The other lead of BITE ME, McDougall Jones is not only a remarkably talented filmmaker in all respects (she writes, acts, produces, and so much more) she is also leading the charge for gender equality and representation in Hollywood. Her TED Talk (link here) went viral and for good reason. She’s not only preaching an indisputable ethical argument but also a financially irrefutable one. Women make up more than half of society, they bring in billions of dollars at the box office, and they have so many stories to tell. Thanks to filmmakers like McDougall Jones, Effie Brown, and Zoe Lister-Jones just to name a few, boundaries are being pushed when it feels like Hollywood has given up on taking risks. Sick of big-budget male driven blockbusters? Got superhero fatigue? I don’t but I absolutely want to hear stories from the other perspectives and there is more than enough money to go around. There is an entire spectrum of stories waiting to be told. Dear Hollywood, stop pretending like we don’t want to hear new and diverse voices or that they aren’t financially worth the risk. They are. Give us more!
The Joyful Vampire Tour is one of the most exciting new distribution ideas in years. While you can still buy and stream the movie on Amazon, iTunes, and Seed & Spark, the producers have gone outside the box to bring BITE ME to a movie theater near you. For 3 months, McDougall Jones and members of the production team will be driving an RV across the country to host screening of the film as well as parties and other tie-in events. The entire trip will be documented as a weekly series on YouTube.
It is a very exciting time to be an independent filmmaker. Technology has become so accessible that anyone with enough drive and passion can tell their story and share it with the world. There are still mountains to topple and gatekeepers to pass but with films like BITE ME and the filmmakers behind it, you can be assured that a revolution is underway. BITE ME isn’t a perfect film but it is the perfect film for audiences that desperately need a refreshing and unique rom-com to cuddle up to.
TAGS: BITE ME, HARRY POTTER, AMERICAN HORROR STORY, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, FIELD OF DREAMS, JOYFUL VAMPIRE TOUR, SEED & SPARK