Friday, September 09, 2022

Firebite: Season 1 – review

First aired: 2021

Directors: Warwick Thornton, Brendan Fletcher & Tony Krawitz

Contains spoilers

This Australian TV show had a really interesting opening premise and a beautiful setting. Some may not call the Australian dessert (the show is set in a desert opal mining colony) beautiful but I have a soft spot for dessert set productions, thinking the natural lighting offers a dramatis that is pleasing to the viewer eye.

I also probably had the wrong expectations going in. I sort of expected something madcap along the lines of the magnificent Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead – I don’t know why – what we got wasn’t madcap and punched, unfortunately, under its weight.

story of the eleven

But, as I say the premise, is really interesting. Tyson (Rob Collins) is a vampire hunter and also the legal guardian of Shanika (Shantae Barnes-Cowan, Wyrmwood Apocalypse), or Nika, a teenage girl who also hunts with him. The hunting often makes her late for school and after we first meet her on a hunt we see her in class – as the white kids in the class celebrate Australia Day, she gives her perspective. For her, and her people, it is Invasion Day but, not stopping there, she tells how the British brought 11 vampires to the land (as well as guns and smallpox). She then says that the vampires became addicted to “Blackfella” blood.

Tyson and Nika

This then is the premise – that the vampires came, became addicted to indigenous peoples’ blood and then, as we discover later, a group called Blood Hunters developed – with their own set of rules but the mission of wiping out the vampires. In the class the white kids react badly to the story, and a racist incident sees Nika retaliating and getting suspended. So, whilst the premise of racist vampires (they only turn white people to maintain the bloodline) and indigenous hunters was good, the series takes that premise and is very on the nose with it, perhaps a tad too on the nose – though perhaps the bluntness of message was necessary, particularly in Australia where I suspect a bludgeon is probably needed to break through an underlying institutional racism in the culture.

Callan Mulvey as the vampire king

The other societal message in the series is one of misogyny, and this was dealt with using a little more panache. When a Blood Hunter (Kelton Pell) shows up, he berates Tyson for training Nika – hunting is for men. The attitude of the Vampire King (Callan Mulvey) also displays an undercurrent of misogyny – it turns out he is the last of the 11 originals, though he doesn’t necessarily appear as powerful as one might expect. Only the 11 could turn – something they call the Firebite, and so tuning is a deliberate choice.

hunting in the tunnels

Tyson was to be a Blood Hunter but he left them when they intervened in an attack and he rescued Nika (played young by Nyunmiti Gibson) as a little girl, rather than abandoning her in the outback. Her mother (Natasha Wanganeen, Dark Place) was taken and, when Nika discovers that not all victims are killed but some – Bleeders – are kept she wants to try and find her and it is in things like this the show became weaker. Her mother is alive – but the length of time (whilst unspoken) seems long for someone being consistently bled to be able to survive and it isn’t addressed.

Tyson fighting

Another issue is around the Tyson character – now I have to say, in the first instance, that Rob Collins’ performance was bob on, but they pushed him to antihero with the character flaws they presented the character with and then carried on pushing. I think they pushed too far and despite a (drunken) redemption confession the character was too flawed. Nika put it best when she says he is “Hero. Blood Hunter. Dickhead.” That dickhead part was really laid on a bit too thick and the character drawn too thinly – that was the issue with most of the characters, they weren’t developed enough.

Nika and Kitty

The story could have been condensed or perhaps nuanced a bit more. That said, I certainly didn’t dislike it. I have mentioned Rob Collins but there were several good, key performances, despite thin characters and I’d loved to have seen what the cast could have done with more rounded characters. The narrative commentaries were necessary no matter how blunt the application. The idea of vampires using the disused mine shafts (they are burnt and killed by the sun) was a good one. I think 6 out of 10 is a tad generous but anything less seems churlish.

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

On DVD @ Amazon UK

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