As we sluggishly crawl – crestfallen, exhausted, and bloodied – towards 2021, it is time to think back on the hell of a year we’ve lived through. I’m sure I am not the only person that has spent a lot of their time holed up inside watching an endless wave of movies, and it has fortunately been a great year […]
As we sluggishly crawl – crestfallen, exhausted, and bloodied – towards 2021, it is time to think back on the hell of a year we’ve lived through. I’m sure I am not the only person that has spent a lot of their time holed up inside watching an endless wave of movies, and it has fortunately been a great year for releases. As I sit here in my pajamas, hunched over my laptop with the steadfast positioning of a couch gargoyle going over the inevitable ranking of my favorite films of the year as is expected of film Twitter, I keep thinking about Bit above all others.
All the way back in April – or 1856, as it’s hard to tell this year and time is meaningless for vampires anyway – Bit was released with little promotion or attention. As a result, I have spent every possible opportunity since then screaming about how much I love this film. Don’t get me wrong, I can objectively look at everything I have seen this year and say that Bit is not the “best” overall film, but – subjectively speaking – there are so very few films of this or any year that speak to me as personally as this one does.
Laurel (Nicole Maines) is a young woman moving out of her hometown to Los Angeles, where she gets mixed up with a gang of women from the wrong side of the grave. She is bitten, thrown off a roof, and left to turn or die. Laurel is granted the option to turn, but now she must face the world as a creature of the night alongside her new brood of intersectional vampires, led by the white leather jacket clad Duke (Diana Hopper).
From the first taste, this seems like a familiar vampire story that we have seen before, albeit one told with the added complexities of our current, more socially conscious world. It’s something of an all-female retelling of The Lost Boys, with the inclusion of a racially diverse cast and a trans lead so as to check all of the “woke” boxes needed for a film to be commended in our modern filmscape. At least, that certainly is the opinion of the surface-level internet cynics who bombed the film on IMDB even before it was released just because it was uncompromising in not trying to cater to them. The film is a boogeyman that stalks men at night, threatening to be a worse version of everything they love because it is, in their minds, “dumbed down for women.”
I’m settled comfortably in the opposite camp. Bit handles its story and themes with such expertise that it is doing something we have never truly seen in horror before – and it is all centered around the treatment of Laurel.
Typically, in the horror genre, transness is handled…um…poorly. Most commonly seen as “killer crossdresser” types, these roles are played by cisgender people and the only control these characters have over their narrative is rooted in villainy. Trans women in particular are repeatedly told that we are allowed to exist only as monsters and only if there is an understanding that we are not real women. Either the character is written with some declaration that they are “not actually a woman” or because the moviegoer is aware that they are played by ultra-famous cis male actors.
Even in best case scenarios where the character is sympathetic and trans people find catharsis in them (like myself with Sleepaway Camp), this is only incidental and often because other options are so sparse. In rare other examples, trans people typically fall victim to the “bury your gays” fate that befalls many queer people in all forms of fiction.
This is horror, so I understand that we need to have some sort of body count. I want to make it clear that I don’t want special exceptions to be made for queer characters to survive until the end of the film every time. The equality that I yearn for in my soul says that trans characters have the right to get killed off in as many exciting and fun ways as cis characters. However, that also means we deserve the opportunity to be the final girl/boy/person, and we have never been given that chance.
Cinema is currently at the crest of a cultural shift where we are finally getting to see trans characters fight back, but there is a lot of responsibility with that. There is added context that needs to be considered when writing marginalized characters. We are far beyond the point where table scraps in the way of representation are “good enough,” but are also nowhere near where we can casually throw trans characters into whatever cookie-cutter scenario that a non-queer character could fit into as if that works. That might be equality, but it definitely isn’t equity.
That being said, Bit technically kills its trans lead in the first 30 minutes. She becomes a literal movie monster, and not once is any variation of the word “transgender” even used in its crisp 94-minute runtime. There have been so many viewers – including members of the LGBTQ+ community – that don’t even realize that Laurel is trans. This film does everything that you are “not supposed to do,” and yet writer/director Brad Michael Elmore does everything right.
There are very commanding and obvious reasons why Duke leads our vampire girl gang. I agree with a lot of what she says and she is just effortlessly cool. However, she is also a chaotic demagogue of white feminism and wants to speak for everyone based on her own experiences when she absolutely should not be. Without delving too heavily into the whole of sexism, there is a very fine line between Duke being seen as secondary and Laurel being seen as a monster without either of them being vampires entering the conversion.
Laurel did not ask to be a vampire, nor do most people. Where she differs from others – and even the rest of her brood – is that there are decades of messaging saying she as a trans woman is dangerous. She was just a small town girl, living in a lonely world and trying to have a nice, normal life in the big city after some rough formative years. Then just when she looks like she has found her place? CHOMP. She now has to live as the threat that every bigot fears trans people as, albeit not in the exact form of “man-eater” they envisioned.
This is the genius of Bit. We get to see the two most defining takes on trans characters – or at least characters perceived as trans – within this realm, as both the victim and as the killer. Both make sense for Laurel’s journey and the film tackles these issues like they are prey with jugulars ripe for the biting and slays it!
Moralistically, Laurel does not want to kill anyone, but she has no choice. That is the new reality of her life. She will be a monster whether she wants to be or not because people made her that way. Even as she staunchly thinks that she can go without feeding, the scale cannot be weighed on the opposite side with equal force to counterbalance other people. Even without vampirism, trying to be a perfect example for what a trans person is supposed to be will only end in failure. In Laurel’s case, she snaps and kills her brother, turning him into a vampire to save him but in turn cursing him just like how she was.
Laurel is by no means a perfect person, but to me, she is a perfect character. She is complex and deconstructive of horror’s past transgressions in a way that I cannot compare to anyone else like me on screen. In a film that is as deep or as shallow as you want to make it, I love that her story and character are influenced by her transness without being central to the film. I’ve heard a few people criticize the lack of saying the word “transgender,” but I don’t feel like this movie needs to out its main character in order for it to solidify the representation it is providing.
Bit is stylish, punk as fuck, progressive, and so many other things that I love but above all else it is hopeful. Screw internet trolls and toxic feminists! This movie says trans women don’t stay dead and, even if you try to vilify us, we still get to define what we want our destinies to be. This is a resurrection into a new era where trans stories are defined by our lives, not our deaths.