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‘First Kill’ Sinks its Teeth into Something Fresh (REVIEW)

Supernatural romances ran our lives once. True, they never went away for some; for most of us, though, there was a time when we could think of nothing else. They were all anyone could talk about. They were all we could consume. Slowly but surely, all of that ferocity dwindled – but it never truly died. It was simply waiting for a reinvention. 

Enter First Kill. The Netflix original series is an adaptation of V. E. Schwab‘s story of the same name. Her story can be found in the anthology Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with Fresh Bite, edited by Zoraida Cordova and Natalie C. Parker. The anthology’s eleven vampire stories, all by young adult fiction’s leading voices, dared to paint vampires in a new light. For Schwab, the purpose of “First Kill” was to restart the genre, tropes and all – and with a queer romance at the forefront.

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Imani Lewis as Calliope and Sarah Catherine Hook as Juliette in First Kill. (COURTESY: Netflix)

When it’s time for teenage vampire Juliette (Sarah Catherine Hook) to make her first kill so she can take her place among her powerful vampire family, she sets her sights on a new girl in town named Calliope (Imani Lewis). But much to Juliette’s surprise, Calliope is a vampire hunter from a family of celebrated slayers. They each find that the other won’t be so easy to kill…and that they’re both way too easy to fall for.

First Kill‘s first episode is a beat-for-beat adaptation of Schwab’s short story. The episodes that follow are entirely new and foreign. When you read the original text and see where it ends, you realize you’re left with a world of possibilities. This is where the excitement lies for First Kill – and for its viewer. However, exploring those possibilities and searching for answers to questions presented in the text may lead to disappointment. Where Juliette’s story was concise and precise at the start of the series, it soon spirals into a web of chaos. 

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Walnette Marie Santiago as Carmen in First Kill. (COURTESY: Netflix)

For a show with an enemies-to-lovers romance at the center, First Kill also suffers from a lack of chemistry between its two leads. Juliette and Callipoe follow a much more ardently romantic path in the original story, despite their journey being cut short. In Netflix’s version of First Kill, Juliette and Calliope only truly light up when they’re once again enemies. It’s ironic, to say the least, because enemies-to-lovers is one of the most celebrated romance tropes for a reason: it’s a prime example of the intense emotion that can burn in anyone. But that intensity is missing here. 

A lot of the falling for each other doesn’t feel as believable as when Juliette and Calliope are in opposition to each other. Instead of earning the faithfulness that comes between them, First Kill lets their relationship fall into the same pattern of toxic devotion that often accompanies teenage romances. Here, it comes with the territory – First Kill is a loose Romeo and Juliet retelling, after all. Nevertheless, letting Calliope’s upbringing and training crumble only because Juliette saves her life feels too good to be true. 

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Imani Lewis as Calliope and Sarah Catherine Hook as Juliette in First Kill. (COURTESY: Netflix)

The most convincing aspect of First Kill‘s first season is its depiction of family dynamics. When the show raises the stakes, the strain and anxiety between the families are what really keeps the viewer hooked. This is why the show’s stand-out performances are Elizabeth Mitchell as Margot and Aubin Wise as Talia – and especially Wise’s contribution to the show. She is remarkable as the matriarch of the Burns family; it’s difficult to keep from being entranced by her presence whenever she’s on screen.

Because of this, the strongest parts of First Kill‘s debut are its beginning and its end. The episodes to watch are the first one and the final two; the middle, on the other hand, feels muddled. Truly, there is a lot to enjoy and celebrate here. Juliette’s dynamic with Calliope and Ben (Jonas Dylan Allen) brought plenty of heart. Even so, the many plot points thrown in to create tension and drama never fully come to fruition, and many of them end up feeling like loose threads. The best example is Oliver (Dylan McNamara) offering Juliette the option of turning human with the help of his partner Carmen (Walnette Maria Santiago), who just so happens to be a witch. The intriguing idea never really amounts to anything. And while I enjoyed the finale as a whole, the last few minutes felt like a curve ball thrown from left field. 

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Imani Lewis as Calliope and Aubin Wise as Talia Burns in First Kill (COURTESY: Netflix)

Some aspects of First Kill are also overdone, though that’s the point. V. E. Schwab and Felicia D. Henderson celebrate their genre’s clichés and liven them up for a new generation of supernatural lovers. The series’ diversity is also beautiful to behold, and it’s refreshing to see young love portrayed by two beautiful and strong young women. The flaw ultimately lies in the narrative structure and storytelling – the development of First Kill‘s queer romance suffers in the process of adaption from page to screen. Be that as it may, First Kill is wonderfully reminiscent of the shows many of us grew up on and loved. It brings a refreshing take to the genre for the “Euphoria” generation. 

First Kill is now available to stream on Netflix.

Rating: 6/10

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