Firebite Upends Australian History
One of the enticing aspects of the horror genre is the opportunity for personal examination and social commentary. Australian writer/director Warwick Thornton (Sweet Country) and fellow countryman, writer/documentarian Brendan Fletcher (Mad Bastards) utilize the parasitic aspects of the vampire legend to rewrite the arrival of the British “First Fleet” on Australia’s shores in 1788, Founder’s Day, into a tale of invasion.
The Australian TV series Firebite (2021) stars the AACTA award winner, Rob Collins (The Drover’s Wife, Extraction), as vamp hunter Tyson Walker. Shantae Barnes-Cowan (Total Control, Wyrmwood: Apocalypse ) stars as his spunky daughter Shanika aka ‘Neeks,’ and Aussie leading man Callan Mulvey (Avengers: Endgame, Outlaw King) as the Vampire King. From the beginning, the series upends Australian history, replacing colonialism and smallpox with vampires who became addicted to Aboriginal blood. A war between “bloodsuckers” and trained vampire slayers — “blood hunters” — has raged ever since.
FireBite is an original reworking of the vampire legend, celebrating Aboriginal ingenuity while telling an entertaining story of a human battle against blood-sucking parasites.
Tyson (Collins) and Shanika (Cowan) are two blood hunters questing to eradicate the last vampire outpost located in an abandoned network of mines and save their south Australian desert town at “the edge of the planet.” These Blackfellas, an informal term Aboriginal Australians use to refer to themselves, soon come face to face with the King, the last surviving centuries-old vampire determined to expand the only remaining vampire colony.
Filmed entirely in Australia, the scenescape can be considered a lead member of the cast, with fire-red sunsets and desolate expansive landscapes crafting a sub-story of poverty and ingenuity.
The performances are brilliant. Firebite’s pace is rapid, dropping the viewer into the story with minimal expository, forcing us to catch up and pay attention. The camera technique is fresh, utilizing the natural landscape as an 80,000-year-old set, depicting the story’s undeniable authenticity and believability. Unique lighting techniques accentuate feelings of tension and danger, while the underground scenes use the dark to propel the story.
The on-screen chemistry between Tyson (Collins) and Shanika (Cowan) is palpable. It sets the backdrop for romping, stylized vampire encounters, and subtle Australian comedy that is contagious – suggesting just how much fun co-creators Thornton and Fletcher had in making the series. The primary theme, bloodsuckers versus blood hunters, is obvious. The secondary storylines are more sophisticated, examining Australian-Aboriginal social issues of racial conflict and the needs of isolated, impoverished communities once established by manifest destiny and now fueled by prejudice. It is these underlying stories that give the series depth. One episode is enough to engender concern for Shanika (Cowan) and eye-rolling acceptance of Tyson (Collins).
Ultimately, Firebite is an old-fashioned vampire hunting rollick. The vampires are fanged villains, and the action provides enough blood-soaked gore and flesh-ripping detail to satisfy even the most demanding fans.
Firebite is definitely binge-worthy and is currently streaming on AMC+. Unfortunately, Firebite fans will need to be patient, as the streaming service is releasing Season 1, one episode at a time.
Firebite (2021) Official Trailer