VIFF 2023: Bitten (La Morsure)

Directed by: Romain de Saint-Blanquat
Distributed by: TBD

Written by Michael Clawson

“Bitten” opens with a dizzying flurry of eerie sights. Shards of gauzy images – a swinging crystal pendulum, a burning chapel in the woods, a young girl crying out in agony – swirl and collide in surrealist montage. This is the nightmare that jolts Sarah (Léonie Dahan-Lamor) awake, and leaves her with the feeling that she is doomed. A moody, superstitious French teen, Sarah concludes that her vision is prophetic, and that she’ll be dead in a day’s time.

Thinking she has only one night left to live, Sarah does what any high schooler might: she goes to a party. The year is 1967, and Sarah attends a remote Catholic boarding school for girls. With heavy eyes and a permanently sullen look on her face, Sarah is the picture of adolescent angst, so it is no surprise she’s drawn like a magnet to a costume party that promises boys, booze, and music. Steeped in an atmosphere of foreboding, “Bitten” charts Sarah’s strange, moonlit journey into a night of unexpected encounters.

Writer/director Romain de Saint-Blanquat, here making his debut feature, channels the cinema of Dario Argento through his chosen mood and milieu. This is a coming-of-age movie with macabre overtones, and all the trappings of a horror movie: fog and spindly trees blanket the landscape, the moon looms large in the night’s sky, and the specter of death casts a pall over Sarah and her friend Delphine’s night out. There might not be a leather-gloved serial killer, but there is a boy that Sarah connects with who may or not be an actual vampire. 

“Bitten” is at its strongest when Sarah and Delphine are at the party, which takes place at a vast countryside manor. The scene is brimming with the energy of ‘60s youth as kids in costumes move on the dancefloor and flow in and out of the house. These moments capture what’s at stake for Sarah: regardless of whether or not she actually dies, approaching adulthood is its own kind of death as it signals the end of adolescence. It’s after the party, when Sarah and friends stumble upon an accident in the woods, that the movie starts to lose its focus. But even then, de Saint-Blanquat’s handling of mood and Dahan-Lamor’s performance are plenty enticing.

“Bitten” Trailer

Michael Clawson is a member of the Seattle Film Critic Society you can follow his passion for film on Letterboxd.

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