Wednesday, July 6, 2022

‘First Kill’ Review [SPOILER FREE]: Teenage Hormones and Kitschy Effects

First Kill is a supernatural, LGBTQ+ romance with a little more bite than the average teen love story. Following in the footsteps of many well-known vampire properties from the past couple of decades — such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Vampire Diaries, Twilight, and so on — this series is focused on a high school girl who is more than she appears, and her friends, enemies, and complicated love life.

Juliette Fairmont is the vampire character, a “legacy vamp” with ethics who wants to avoid killing people at any cost. Calliope “Cal” Burns is a hunter, out to make her first kill. They meet at school, and hormones take over from there…

First Kill elevates some lesser-known talents, as well as including a few familiar faces. Sarah Catherine Hook (The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It) plays the role of vampire Juliette, and Imani Lewis (Vampires vs. the Bronx) plays monster hunter Cal. Other performances of note include Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost), Gracie Dzienny (Jupiter’s Legacy), Will Swenson (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), and Dylan McNamara (Euphoria).

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But is it good, or does it—brace yourselves for the pun—just suck?

Well, the answer depends on what you’re looking for.

Netflix

First Kill has its pros and cons, but will no doubt attract diehard fans who are into the very particular brand of television that creators and producers V. E. Schwab, Felicia Henderson, and Emma Roberts (yes, that one — of Scream Queens fame) intended to make.

If you’re looking for a deep, high-budget show with slick special effects and a lot of plot, then First Kill isn’t going to do much for you. But, importantly, First Kill was never marketed that way. What it does do, it does well. The show is one of the most refreshing sapphic romances I’ve seen, in that it doesn’t try to pretend that girls who like girls are any different from the hormone-driven straight teens we see in these kinds of shows all the time.

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From the very first episode, First Kill allows Juliette and Cal the same tropes other series like this get. The show purposely highlights the physical aspect of their relationship, in a way that feels like deliberate pushback against the overly sanitized versions of queer relationships that are usually allowed on screens.

Hook plays Juliette compellingly, with just enough angst and sexual frustration. Juliette feels like a teenager first, a vampire second — even with supernatural attributes, she can still be awkward and a bit unsure, embodying the way teenagers haven’t quite grown into themselves fully yet. There’s not as much to go on, unfortunately, on Cal’s side. Her character is much more stoic and contained, meaning that Lewis has to work a little harder to sell her. More self-assured than Juliette, Cal seems most comfortable when she gets to react physically instead of expressing herself any other way. Give that girl something to hit and she’ll come alive. Lewis did a fantastic job with the fight scenes, which definitely helps the character as a whole.

Netflix

Where First Kill is lacking is in depth beyond the sapphic chemistry and rampant hormones. While there is clearly a wider world of monsters and fiends out there, First Kill keeps its focus on Juliette and Cal, and leaves many questions unanswered. While that’s effective in avoiding information dumps upfront (that often end up tripping shows up in later seasons), and also bodes well for future seasons being able to build and grow the lore as they go on, many viewers will finish the first season with a sense that there’s a more complex world just out of reach.

The special effects also need to be mentioned. Is it cutting edge CGI, fully believable? Not at all. Given the shows other dips into both cheese and self-awareness, I don’t think they were meant to be. These effects are clearly a choice — the physical effects feel like a deliberate throwback to the initial wave of vampire media. The kinds of effects used in the series will be familiar to fans of shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Supernatural. Jutting, kitschy vampire teeth and iffy CGI will annoy some viewers, but there is an existing precedent for this effects style and those are the fanbases this show feels like it’s wanting to attract.

First Kill can be cheesy, and it seems to wholly embrace that.  The show doesn’t shy away from pop culture comparisons to the likes of Buffy and Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Elena and Damon in The Vampire Diaries. In fact, it seems to want to drive the point home that they’re happy with that — even the opening credits feature catchy lyrics which make reference to Bella and Edward from Twilight

Netflix

Ultimately, First Kill is a story about vampires, hunters, and teenage hormones. But it’s also a story about the choice to be human or a monster, and how those definitions aren’t set by our species.

I’m hoping that First Kill does well enough to get a couple more seasons, so that we can get that more fleshed out mythology that these star-crossed, sapphic teens deserve. And personally, I hope they keep the old school SFX! We’ve got plenty of shows with mind-blowing visuals already. Maybe First Kill shouldn’t bother to compete, and instead focus on its characters and heart — those are the big stars here.

Shows about teenagers rarely get the budget, marketing, or fanfare they deserve (especially those featuring or aimed at teenage girls, it must be said). But I’m going to stick my neck out for this one — these kinds of shows can have a big impact on the teens who enjoy them, especially LGBTQ+ teens, who often lack community elsewhere but can build it around shows like First Kill.

Season 1 may not be a massive hit for critics or some sectors of the general audience, but among specifically intended audience, it’ll have fangs.

First Kill season 1 is available to stream now on Netflix.

For more news and reviews about media you love, check out Nerds and Beyond!

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