FIRSTBORN **** Latvia 2017 Dir: Aik Karapetian. 93 mins
After a drunken game at an Oriental-themed dinner party gets uncomfortably personal for middle-class couple Francis (Kaspars Znotins) and Katrina (Maija Doveika), they leave and are assaulted by a motorcycle-riding bag snatcher on the way home. Francis, in a bid to assert some kind of control over an event that haunts him, sets out to find the stranger but, in lieu of police help, ends up unwisely trying to broker a deal with the mugger.
Deliberately paced and set against a suitably bleak, wintry backdrop, FIRSTBORN has superficial similarities to the Coens’ FARGO in its story of one deeply insecure Everyman’s descent into violence that quickly takes him way over his head. Writer-director Karapetian, however, doesn’t give the audience the comfort of that film’s humour and character warmth.
Znotins is excellent in an authentic study of male insecurity – the single act of unprovoked violence heightening his existing hang-ups as he fantasises about Katrina fucking her younger, stronger attacker while constantly trying to find some kind of inner peace by asking her if she would have left him had he killed the mugger that night. Suspenseful as an uncommonly thoughtful urban thriller, it’s also an absorbing story of a relationship collapsing in the wake of trauma. The violence, when it comes, is brief and unpleasant to behold, while the intense finale effectively wraps up a discomforting story about the thin threads that separate all of us and our families from giving in to our worst, most primal instincts in the need for self-preservation.
Review by Steven West