A High Stakes Teen Lesbian Vampire Romance
About a series that pits supernatural evil against imperfect virtue, Netflix First murder (★★★☆☆) is great when it’s good, and downright terrible when it’s bad.
Sometimes it’s so bad it’s good, but this “teenage vampire falls in love with a fearless vampire hunter” romance is far from boring.
Based on a short story by queer author YA and fantasy VE Schwab, First murder mixes up a bit buffy, Supernaturaland Charm with Romeo and Julietand one side of Heathers. But it admirably engages with its own dark mythology and wicked sense of humor as it weaves together the possibly tragic story of Calliope (Imani Lewis) and Juliet (Sarah Catherine Hook).
The couple’s love at first sight ardor is electric yet innocent, fueled by the connection between Lewis and Hook, which can make Calliope and Juliet seem like the only two people in a crowded room.
Usually these rooms are also quite crowded – between Juliette’s family, the Fairmonts, who are part of the elite of Savannah, Georgia, although secretly vampires, and the people of Calliope, the Burns family, who are part from a long line of trained monster hunters.
While the deadly dueling family dynamic is good for soapy drama, the supernatural horror that accompanies it ranges from gnarly to absurd.
The R-rated gore of feeding vampires and, say, a lightning-fast zombie ripping someone’s spine, is played against the dry humor of a sleepy Southern town overrun by banshees, demons and bloodsuckers. The moment one of the main characters casually devours a relative set elicits both a jolt and a laugh.
Not all of the laughs are intentional, though, with some seriously moan-worthy dialogue and some sketchy performances to match the awkwardly choreographed fight scenes and still-cheesy lighting.
Schwab and company bring some interesting wrinkles to their vampire mythology — Juliet’s clan are inherited vampires, descended from a pure bloodline — but the writers leave gaping holes or unexplained questions that might vex viewers. We meet a few generations of Fairmont, for example, but we learn nothing about their aging process.
Yet the show frequently and pleasantly surprises by escalating the conflict between the Fairmont and Burns families much faster than expected. Plot twists appear just in time to keep a viewing frenzy going.
The narrative turns that tend to work best are those that are closer to reality. Juliette’s lifelong best friend Ben (well played by Jonas Dylan Allen) ignores her secret and takes matters into her own hands when his best friend’s true mortal nature is revealed. But Ben keeps secrets of his own, as a “side piece” to straight brother DL Noah (Roberto Méndez), whose treatment of his hookup buddy is monstrous, even though no real freaks are involved in the relationship.
During its 8-episode season, First murder tries to develop its main themes of promoting tolerance and fighting bigotry. The series forces a scenario in which the Fairmonts, who would rather just be honest, wealthy Southerners, begin to feel victimized by “monster phobes” who only see them as killers.
Led by Ben’s stay-at-home mom, Bunny (Annunziata Gianzero, not good, but a hoot), the monster-phobes form the action group MAAM, Mothers Against All Monsters, after a spate of monster killings swept the city.
They are portrayed as reactionary and misinformed lunatics, but this time the lunatics are right. Monsters like Juliet’s ruthless older sister Elinor (Gracie Dzienny), who cautiously but ruthlessly feeds off guys she picks up in bars, probably shouldn’t be encouraged to devour people. Society has to draw a line somewhere.
So this angle doesn’t make sense, but First murder has fun trying to make it work, plus other wacky details, from blood minions offering sips from their wrists at a cocktail party, to a zombie who’s still hoping for a role in the movie’s play. ‘school. Amidst all the macabre oddities, it’s the incredible adventure of two girls in love that holds center stage and keeps this horror show from spiraling out of control.
First murder is currently streaming on Netflix. Visit www.netflix.com.