A robust thrill-ride, Aussie vampire series Firebite premieres exclusively on AMC+. Travis Johnson found the first episodes powerfully realised and just bloody fun.
“Indigenous warriors hunt vampires in modern day Coober Pedy” should be enough for you to pencil in Firebite, the new series from Warwick Thornton (Sweet Country) and Brendan Fletcher (Mad Bastards), somewhere near the top of your list.
It’s a banger; a fast, funny, ferocious horror actioner that has tonal commonalities with Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and especially Near Dark, but is very much its own thing. In the specific, our setting is Opal City (as noted, Coober Pedy with the serial numbers filed off), a remote, desolate opal mining community with a large Indigenous population and a serious vampire problem.
Standing between the two is hard-drinking vampire hunter Tyson (Rob Collins, effortlessly charismatic) and his adopted sister/assistant Shanika (Shantae Barnes-Cowan, snarky and wise). If any vampire comes crawling out of the countless abandoned mineshafts peppering the wasteland, Tyson’s wooden boomerang will be perforating their breastbones before they can hiss.
For all his formidable monster-mashing prowess, Tyson is a failed vampire hunter. He was on track to become a Blood Hunter, one of an order of Indigenous vampire hunters dedicated to fighting the undead, but he crapped out at some point, leaving him to hunt bloodsuckers in a more ad hoc fashion.
That’s a problem, given that Vampire King Josiah (Callan Mulvey) has rolled into town with the intent of making Opal City the vampire capital of the world, which may be a bit much for Tyson and Shanika to handle. But luckily old mentor Jalingbirri (the great Kelton Pell effectively playing Kris Kristofferson from the Blade flicks) rocks up with a Mack truck full of vampire-killing gadgets. And so, we’re off to the races.
Australia does rather well at genre fare, and we’re on the crest of incredible wave of Indigenous screen culture right now—but the two rarely cross over, and when they do it’s often in a very self-serious manner. Firebite, like Cleverman (RIP) before it, bucks the trend by remembering to be fun; it’s the story of a rough-as-guts vampire hunter taking a boomerang to invasive Eurotrash vampires, after all, and that should be a good time.
Which doesn’t mean that Firebite is bereft of political subtext, or even text: the show straight-up tells us that the British imported vampires to help wipe out native resistance—a kind of supernatural smallpox in human form. At another point, a wall of Missing Persons notices starkly reminds us that marginalised communities are vulnerable—here to vampiric predation, but in the real world to all kinds of more mundane horrors (and I’m reminded of Wolfen, both the book and film, which touches on similar themes). It’s all part of the texture of the show, woven through the fabric of the narrative and underpinning but not overshadowing the thrust of the action.
A couple of things niggle, though. Callan Mulvey’s Vampire King swanning around in a ruffled shirt is a tad on-the-nose for a modern vampire king (similar choices helped scuttle John Carpenter’s Vampires 20 years ago).
And while Yael Stone (Orange is the New Black) is always a welcome presence, having her play a seemingly minor character for the first few episodes (three were proved for review) indicates we, the audience, should probably keep an eye on her seemingly innocuous barmaid, potentially spoiling whatever surprise is being set up.
But tonally, Firebite is a wonder. The dusty, desolate desert setting is a gift, as are the subterranean locations (Coober Pedy, basically a human outpost on the surface of the sun, has a lot of homes and businesses excavated from the local scarp). Thornton and Fletcher don’t skimp on the action and gore, and while the set up is robust rather than innovative, it promises to be a fun ride.
I hate to repeat myself, but we’ve come full circle. So: Indigenous warriors hunt vampires in modern day Coober Pedy—what are you waiting for?