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    ‘Bit’: Film Review

    Vampire grrrls rule the L.A. club scene in this polished but skin-deep indie genre spin.

    Bit
    Nick Cafritz/Provocator

    Its central characters jaded club youth who just happen to be vampires — and seem not to have developed any depth or maturity no matter how long they’ve been doing this undead thing — “Bit” seems likewise content to act cool in the shallow end of the pool. Brad Michael Elmore’s feature flirts with various identification points (trans, lesbian, feminist) without making much of them, beyond the automatic cred that placing an LGBTQ stamp on genre tropes will mean for some viewers. If the “Twilight” movies were aimed primarily at teens, this polished low-budget indie is for those teens hip enough to be in their school’s Gay-Straight Alliance.

    On the one hand, it’s nice that in 2020 this hook should (despite our current political chaos) seem no big deal. On the other, one does wish this exercise in blase attitudinizing paid a little more attention to suspense, thrills, plot, mythology, and the other basic horror elements it leaves underdeveloped. With some gay-festival play behind it, “Bit” launched on major VOD platforms with virtually no promotion, beyond a few tweets by transgender rights activist and “Supergirl” regular Nicole Maines.

    Among the sales points that are curiously unemphasized onscreen are the main one of casting Maines in the lead. There are hints near the beginning and end that her character has undergone years of upheaval, presumably due to gender-assignment-related issues. But that’s never spelled out, which seems odd: Does the movie want us to think about identity, or forget about it?

    Having just graduated high school in Oregon, Laurel (Maines) has parental permission to drive south and spend the summer crashing on aspiring-actor older brother Mark’s (James Paxton) couch in Los Angeles. Upon her arrival, he takes her clubbing, where she immediately attracts attention from a posse of slightly older women led by the intimidating Duke (Diana Hopper). But it’s Izzy (Zolee Griggs) who invites her to an “afterparty” where make-out sessions of various kinds get a little … bloody.

    The next day, she feels more than a little unwell. Upon being looked up again by Duke and her crew (which also includes Friday Chamberlain and Char Diaz), she’s given the lowdown on becoming fully vampirized as a new “recruit,” should she choose to do so. There are some rules, the main one being, in Duke’s words, “You never, ever turn a man. Men can’t handle power — they have it already, and look what they’ve done with it.” In fact, the otherwise not-particularly-virtuous fanged quartet justifies some of their homicides by selecting male abusers and d-bags as primary victims. This hep sisterhood all sounds good to Laurel, who signs on despite remaining squeamish about the “killing” and “bodily-fluid drinking” parts.

    After this setup, Elmore’s screenplay continues at a brisk clip. There’s suddenly-very-preoccupied Laurel’s neglect of family and preexisting friends, plus the undead ladies’ nemeses in the forms of some macho, mortal vampire-hunting dudes (led by M.C. Gainey) and an ancient bloodsucking “master” (Greg Hill as Vlad) whom Duke has managed to keep locked away for some time.

    Though stylish within its limitations, “Bit” doesn’t have the budgetary means for major action sequences or fantasy effects. More disappointing, though, is that it lacks the imagination to make much of its characters, their standoffs and various supernatural powers in conceptual terms — often a harrowing threat is eliminated by simply setting it on fire, for instance.

    Perhaps the rather casually tossed-off vampiric mythological fillips here will be developed more fruitfully in any sequels (a prospect the fade-out duly teases). But while entertaining enough, “Bit” doesn’t take itself seriously enough to be have much in the way of scares or emotional urgency. Nor does it hone its humor beyond some genre in-jokes, and the jaded flippancy that keeps both Laurel and Duke from turning into more than prematurely bored party chicks with fangs.

    The one time the movie goes out on a more satirical limb is in an elaborate flashback detailing Duke’s ’70s odyssey from teenage runaway to Dracula’s disco-diva sidekick. It’s a fun sequence, albeit so self-contained it almost seems to be from another film entirely. (Lifted all too specifically from the ’78 “Superman” is a “flying” sequence for the two leads that should’ve been left on the cutting room floor.)

    The performers are adequate, if left overmuch to their own devices by some weak dialogue writing and lack of much evident directorial attention. Elmore seems most interested in managing a punky neon-hued production gloss on modest means, into which the cast figure like dolls in a diorama. “Bit” may gesture vaguely towards the feminist-revenge likes of “Ms. 45,” but its closer model is the downtown dress-up of “Liquid Sky.” As “The Lost Boys” were kinda homoerotic punks suitable for the multiplex, so these lost girls are underground lesbian scenesters that even Mom and Dad might recognize as more playful pose than moral threat.

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    ‘Bit’: Film Review

    Reviewed online, San Francisco, April 24, 2020. (In Frameline, Outfest film festivals.) Running time: 94 MIN.

    • Production: A Vertical Entertainment release of a Provocator presentation, in association with Thirty06 Prods. Producers: Louis Steyn, T.J. Steyn, Nicholas Cafritz, Peter Winther, Robert Reed Peterson. Executive producer: Michael D. Jones.
    • Crew: Director, writer: Brad Michael Elmore. Camera: Cristina Dunlap. Editor: Ryan DuFrene. Music: Wolfmen of Mars.
    • With: Diana Hopper, Nicole Maines, James Paxton, Zolee Griggs, Char Diaz, Friday Chamberlain, Julia Voth, Greg Hill, M.C. Gainey, James Jagger.
    • Music By:
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