This starts like a blue-lit, grimy British crime picture. Nina (Shian Denovan) is on the streets with no easy exit after an argument with her tougher girlfriend Yaz (Nansi Nsue) and is picked up by nice old lady Beryl (Annabelle Lanyon), who is driving around to assuage insomnia.
In hallucinatory flashbacks, we get a vivid picture of the milieu Nina has (if only for a brief respite) fled from, which involves a disastrous attempt to rip off the takings at an illegal dogfight under the cover of being animal rights activists. Not only has this prompted an argument which has stranded Nina in the night, but bodies have started dropping and a local crimelord is out for revenge. But the apparent refuge Beryl offers is fairly offputting too – her account of who lives or used to live in her old dark house (‘Gerald’s father’s house’) is contradictory and she’s a little too eager to take Nina in as a lodger. Nina flees and gets back with Yaz, who eventually has another of her truly terrible ideas – getting out of the multiple fixes they’re in by robbing Beryl, whom she assumes will be a) alone and b) a pushover. Then, inside the house, the women meet Gerald (Stuart Sessions), a second generation psychopath who has been taking extreme actions after the manner of self-justifying sadists in 1970s films by Pete Walker or Norman J. Warren, and get a sense that something very like a teacosy and war souvenir on the mantelpiece version of the Texas Chain Saw Family is operating in town.
Bite – a title which has been used a few times recently – is an elaborate take on that recently-popular crooks-break-into-the-wrong-gaff premise (cf: Livide, The Owners, Don’t Breathe), which winds up almost as genre-on-genre violence as the sort of hard lads, tattooed Eastern Europeans and desperate women found in many, many Brit neo-noirs go up against a smiling extended family of horror movie fiends with very nasty hobbies. Some of the imagery is familiar – a lot of being strapped down or hung up, with bleeding on the menu – but there’s a trick with a piano I’ve not seen before. Director James Owen, who also co-wrote with Tom Critch, gives it all a dark, distinctive look and keeps springing surprises, but it’s down to Denovan to be a lone feeling human being among a variety of human sharks to give the film some heart and rooting interest.