Review: Bitten

by Paula. R. Stiles


bittenBitten (2008): Once Bitten Films, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Made-For-the-SyFy-Channel films generally suck out loud, but every so often, the network puts out something decent (hint: stick to the basic themes and stay far, far away from anything involving CGI/rubber blown-up monsters and/or set in Iraq). This low-budget, Canadian-indie vampire offering is something decent.

Ironically, Bitten (AKA Mordidos or Lady Is a Vamp) isn’t actually made for television. It’s a real, bona fide censored R-rated film with the curse words bleeped out and the nudity fuzzed but all the gore left in (oh, Space Channel, how I miss thee for thy willingness to show stuff uncut). But it’s the premise and execution that make it a winner.

A young paramedic named Jack (Jason Mewes, Jay to Kevin Smith’s Silent Bob) is lonely. He feels his life is being wasted working on the night shift. He has a very funny and surprisingly supportive friendship with his cynical partner, Roger (genre vet Richard Fitzpatrick). After Jack complains about his cheating ex-girlfriend leaving nasty messages on his answering machine, Roger tells him cheerfully, “Well, you’ll always have me.”

“If you weren’t so ugly in a bikini, I’d take you up on the offer,” Jack snarks back.

Jack lives in the same crappy neighbourhood where he works, which means that his neighbours are the same losers he has to scrape off the sidewalk at work and ship off to the hospital. The film starts with Jack and Roger working Welfare Wednesday. For those of you not in EMS, this is the day that welfare checks come out – whereupon, many drunks and junkies immediately cash their checks, go out and buy whatever gets them high, and promptly OD. Where I used to work as an EMT, we got these folks on Fridays and Saturdays, but it’s the same scene and the same principle.

At the end of his shift, Jack discovers a young woman (Erica Cox, who looks good often-naked, but unfortunately can’t act) half-dead and covered with blood in an alleyway, apparently amnesiac. He takes her in and she eventually remembers that her name is Danika – and that she’s a vampire. She’s a junkie of sorts, but her drug is blood. They fall in love and Jack tries to help Danika get her fix: first with alley cats (which doesn’t work) then with blood-bank blood (which also doesn’t work because the red stuff has to be fresh), then himself (but she can’t feed on him without killing him). Finally, in desperation, he starts feeding her his drug-dealing neighbours. And the bodies start piling up. Lots and lots of bodies.

This flick suffers from some issues: namely, some rather nasty racial stereotypes of the canuck variety (an abrasive Pakistani store owner and a mean-spirited Chinese landlady, especially), not helped by the fact that all of the “good guys” (Jack, Danika, Roger, and Jack’s other coworkers) are white. But it has a lot of good points, too.

For a start, it shows Jack’s paramedic job with surprising accuracy. I usually avoid shows or films with medic heroes because they are portrayed as tragically, romantically flawed, instead of just people (not infrequently with a few hang-ups that led them to that profession) doing a job. ER and Bringing Out the Dead, I’m looking at you.

Bitten doesn’t go that route. Somebody involved with this production actually used to work on an ambulance. My favorite bits are a hilarious Welfare-Wednesday montage of Jack and Roger chasing addled addicts and drunks around that reminded me fondly of canuck detective show Da Vinci’s Inquest (and my old EMT days) and a scene where Jack and Roger are talking while cleaning the ambulance. In real life, you have to clean an ambulance pretty much constantly, so it’s nice to see a fictional story acknowledge that for once. The way they snark at unconscious repeat patients who were obnoxious to them in the past is also entertaining and pretty true.

The effectively-dark humour doesn’t obscure the analogy of drug addiction to vampirism, addiction being a common theme in Canadian indies like We All Fall Down and The Life. Early in the film, Jack complains that he wants someone to take care of him for once instead of him taking care of everyone else. But his increasingly frenetic attempts to keep Danika fed show the opposite. Jack has a White Knight complex where he feels he has to “save” Danika. And the fact that her addiction is “sucking [him] dry”, as Roger puts it, doesn’t overcome the rush Jack gets from enabling her. Danika’s drug is blood. Jack’s is Danika.

I think the reason why films like Bitten (and Let the Right One In) work is because they stay faithful to the modern vampire myth established by Bram Stoker in his novel, Dracula. There is nothing romantic about Stoker’s version of vampires, even if his version is a step up from medieval vampires (which were more like George Romero zombies). They represent scary, creepy things like fears of sex (it’s dirty), disease and immigrants (they’re dirty, too).

Bitten also shows fears of immigrants. Jack’s neighbours are mostly non-white and the ones who victimize him, like the nasty store owner and landlady, are immigrants. It shows some fears of sex and disease, too. In fact, they’re shown as practically the same thing. At one point, Jack jokes about STDs to Danika and his coworkers state that his sexual relationship with her is making him waste away, as if he had AIDS.

Romanticizing these fears, as in Twilight or even Interview with the Vampire, sanitizes them and makes them less compelling. On the plus side, you heighten the sensual element of vampirism by cleaning it up (which is probably why the paranormal-romance angle is so popular), but at the cost of losing those dark roots. You end up with a shallow sexual fantasy and you can only do so much with that.

Bitten doesn’t appear to be out on a Region 1 DVD yet (though you can pick up a Region 2 version from Europe), but you can still catch the bleeped-out version on the SyFy Channel from time to time.