Review by Benjamin Poole
Directed by: John V. Knowles
Starring: Allison Scagliotti, Francia Raisa, Louise Griffiths
From even the earliest days of studio horror, the vampire has been an archetype ripe for spoofage: Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein saw Dracula defanged, a mockery compounded years later by the likes of The Fearless Vampire Killers and Dracula Dead and Loving It. There has always been something cartoonishly pompous about the vampire figure, giving it a vein of absurdity which is deliciously tappable. In the '80s, teen comedies such as Once Bitten and the (superb) Vamp blended the new blood of teen comedy with the vampire character, adding a sharp edge to their depiction of adolescent hierarchies and giddy humour. Chastity Bites shares the same DNA as these hybrids; Leah (Allison Scagliotti) and Katherine (Francia Raisa) are high school outliers, whose already inimical existence with ‘the Hiltons’ (viz. Mean Girls’ plastics) takes on a darker edge when the mysterious and deadly Liz Batho (Louise Griffiths) brings her V.A.G. (Virginity Action Group) philosophy to school.
Chastity Bites balances its typical high school tropes with deep and erudite satire. Leah is an earnest blogger, who, when she isn’t ‘exposing the seedy underworld of the prom committee’ is lecturing her fellow students on how ‘romance is just another patriarchal construct to keep women submissive’; ‘okay, Gloria Steinem’, as Katherine says. To use one of the floral metaphors that Liz Batho is so fond of, Katherine is a shrinking violet, hiding her acne and sexuality behind the hand drawn flowers she scrawls on her face; a desperate twist on the virginal archetype. The chemistry between the two central characters is simply charming, and provides a beating human heart to a film where the humour is often flip and irony rich. Right wing America comes in for the biggest ripping; Batho’s V.A.G. is a take on the ‘True Love Waits’ standpoint- a conservative Christian group which promotes abstinence, encouraging participants to save their modesty for marriage and to also wear rings in order to advertise the fact (one of the more famous real life ring wearers was celebrity sex maniac Miley Cyrus-!). Of course, this pledge to purity suits Batho’s ulterior modus operandi, which is to bathe in the blood of virgins in order to maintain her unfading beauty; a practice overlooked by parents and faculty in their rush to support Batho’s challenge to the ‘liberal homosexual agenda’. Will Batho influence these Tea Party followers to eventually swap their cups of char for something more plasmic? Or can Leah, armed with her library card and deep seated cynicism, stop her?
Chastity Bites recalls the bite and zip of '90s teen comedy classics such as Clueless, Heathers and, yes, Scream; films which were funny and literate, crediting their audience as sharp enough to understand their myriad of references and navigate their scripts’ deft ironies. In Chastity Bites characters are at the whim of pop culture: a home-help dreams of being the star of Mexican Idol, latent love interest Paul (Eduardo Rioseco) sports a Smiths t shirt (‘Meat is Murder’, natch), and dialogue consists of electric riffing on subjects as seemingly disparate as vampire lore and feminist principle. This bleeding the silly with the savvy approach is kept together by husband and wife director/writer/producer team John V. and Lotti Pharriss Knowles. This is the duo’s premier outing as director and writer, although you wouldn’t guess they were first timers, as the film’s textures are so expertly crafted; shifting from light and funny to, when the film needs to be, actually quite brutal. Like the lifeblood that Batho so desires, Chastity Bites has a youthful energy running through its veins. Presumably the budget was relatively low (there is an awkward school assembly scene, wherein the hall looks all but deserted with only a dozen or so kids present), but again, this is betrayed by a pretty primary colour scheme and imaginative cinematography that compliments the film’s vibrancy.
The performances are all good too, although special praise has to go to Scagliotti; an actress who has unerring timing, presents as fiercely intelligent and is absolutely radiant. Her seduction of Paul, which takes the form of a Simone de Beauvoir quote off, is a comic highlight. Although Chastity Bites' ability to recite 1950s French feminists and Christina Aguilera with equal panache is not a reason in itself to like the film, when such verve is transfused with the zippy script, dynamic energy and developed humour that characterises the rest of this movie, it becomes yet another reason to find it irresistible.
Don’t be shy, take a big chomp out of Chastity Bites.