A young couple find that their lives are massively disrupted when they find out that their daughter is a magnet for the supernatural in Nirpah Bhogal’s Firstborn.
As the film opens there’s an immediate sense that life isn’t going to be smooth for the young couple. The reality of the pregnancy is an unexpected one for both of them so naturally there are mixed feelings about it. James (Luke Norris) is really excited about the prospect of having a little version of themselves to care for where Charlie (Antonia Thomas) is far more cautious because she feels that it is far too sudden and something that neither of them are mature enough to handle.
Their fears become reality when it becomes clear that there are supernatural forces acting around their daughter Thea. At first they manifest as things that are barely noticed such as objects moving slightly but it doesn’t take long for them to become far more dangerous to the point that the new parents have to seek help.
Help comes in the form of James’ father Alistair (Jonathan Hyde) who has a lot of experience with the occult and helps them with some techniques to ward off the evil that is plaguing their family.
At its core this film is about family and the dysfunction that comes with that. The fact that James and Charlie are a very young couple thrust into parenthood before they are ready for it is the first indication of this and James’ strained relationship with his father helps reinforce that. There’s an overall sense of cluelessness about everything as neither James or Charlie are equipped to raise a chile properly while also dealing with some kind of supernatural force bent on attacking them and Thea.
Thea’s identity as beacon is an inherited trait which also ties into the familial theme. Terrible things within families continue to be the responsibility of later generations and it creates and endlless cycle that can never be broken. This film cleverly uses the easily understood supernatural elements to reinforce that.
I also like how routine the whole situation becomes. Once they learn how to deal with the family baggage it becomes part of day to day life. There’s an unusual ritual involving candle wax that Thea has to perform daily to ward off the evil that might seem strange for anyone on the outside looking in but for her it’s routine. Every family has its quirks that are normal for them but abnormal for everyone else.
Thea is seen both as a baby and as a 6 year old girl which becomes important as she begins to question what her parents have told her all these years. There’s an element of her not fitting in at school because she seems strange to the other kids but I would have liked to see that take more focus as the oddities of families and how they are perceived is definitely one of the central themes here.
The supernatural lens that the film uses works quite effectively for the most part but characters like Alistair seem to exist for purely expositional reasons. His relationship to his son doesn’t feel at all organic and I never found it believable that there was a pre-existing relationship, strained or otherwise.
Elizabeth (Eileen Davies) is a wise old woman practiced in the occult that Thea is taken to in order to stop what is happening to her. Eileen Davies fully commits to the role and delivers her vague warnings about demonic forces with complete confidence. The performance really sells it even if the character does function as another force to drive the plot forward more than anything else.
Antonia Thomas and Luke Norris do a really good job as the young couple who believably age 6 years in the space of a scene. There’s a real familiarity to their relationship that shines through but I would say that they don’t have enough scenes together to explore that. The focus is mainly on how they view the situation with their daughter rather than themselves as people. Thomas is excellent as the concerned mother figure who gradually unravels as things get worse.
As a horror experience it’s really effective. There isn’t too much reliance on jump scares and the use of unsettling sounds combined with music creates a really creepy atmosphere throughout. There are a handful of moments where the -I assume- low budget lets things down but smartly the demonic forces are left largely to the imagination.
An effective horror film with capable performances from the entire cast and a strong theme that is constantly reinforced throughout. The horror is achieved mostly through unsettling sound and music which works really well and leaving the demonic forces largely to the imagination is a smart choice.
- effectively staged horror
- engaging performances
- a solid and well developed theme
- characters that only exist for exposition
- some underdeveloped ideas