SXSW 2020: LOVEBITES: Toxicity & Loneliness

Seeing your own blind spots is a nearly impossible task. From an outsider’s perspective, however, they can be clear as day.

Nigerian-born writer/director Chinwe Okorie sets out to explore the final 24 hours of a toxic relationship in her narrative short Lovebites. Being in a past “situation-ship” (as she calls it) herself and knowing many friends in toxic relationships of their own, Okorie understands the multilayered pain that can bleed into a person’s psyche.

Toxicity is Just the Beginning, the Cycle Never Breaks

Toxicity is more than just one person enforcing their destructive behavior onto someone else. It opens the gate to far more sophisticated emotions such as self-doubt, loneliness, and even depression. Is it what I think it is? Is it him? Am I just jealous? Am I worthy? Am I desirable? Thoughts such as these can often cloud one’s judgment of the bigger picture, and any attempt at fanning the flames only restarts the cycle. Is it more important to free yourself of this pain, or is it worth it because you occasionally get that moment of feeling desired and needed?

A doomed relationship like the one Cat, our protagonist, has in the film, is like a deep wound; the solution is not a band-aid.

source: SXSW

Lovebites argues one must know when to turn and run. It takes an outsider to know what the problem is. It takes a person who knows how to zoom out and see the whole forest instead of holding on to each individual tree.

The Filmmaking Lays It All Out, Bare and Effective

Even at a runtime of a little over thirteen minutes, Lovebites holds your attention through several components. To start, Khali Sykes, who currently double majors in Acting and Sociology at UT (from one fellow Longhorn to another, hook ‘em!), knows how to convey that inner turmoil and self-doubt with her eyes. The scenes are lit in a way that Cat’s face is always front and center. Cinematographer Blake Nelson allows the camera to linger on, to stare at the relationship that’s doomed from the start, to allow the audience time to make up their mind on what Cat must do.

In the best way possible, there’s nothing bombastic or dramatic about the filmmaking approach. It lays the problem and the psychological torment front and center, naked and bare. And it’s very effective. It’s a film that trusts its audience to make the connections, the empathy, and the call to action.

Lovebites: There’s Room for Even More

The truth is toxicity comes in many forms. One of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele’s best skits involves Meegan; together, they tackle toxicity in relationships a whole different way. They’re funny, yes, but they do nail a key piece of the problem: It’s not just the toxic person, but also the victim who is constantly stuck and can’t break free.

source: SXSW

I can see Lovebites take on a full-length feature form. It could be a standard drama with new supporting characters and subplots. It could be a hyperlink film that revolves around a group of strangers who don’t know each other but suffer toxicity in relationships in different ways. It could even be like Moonlight where we see how one person suffers from toxicity at different stages in life.

Either way, this is a subject matter that deserves multiple points of view, different shades of pain and struggle to help the audience become more aware of a very real problem that’s just not talked about enough. It’s something that filmmakers should bravely share on the big screen. Because films can save lives; we just need the voices to speak up and never stop.

Lovebites was originally planned to premiere at SXSW 2020. For more information on the film, click here.

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