Saturday, April 20, 2024

‘Vampires vs. the Bronx’ Knows the Kids are Alright

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Vampires vs. The Bronx is just fun. It’s an exciting, joyous adventure about three friends fighting vampires and trying to save the neighborhood. Granted we’ve seen this movie before, but that only makes how entertaining it is all the more impressive.

Osmany Rodriguez, who directed but also co-wrote the movie along with Blaise Hemingway, has a clear and deep abiding love of the horror genre. Rodriguez makes Vampires vs. the Bronx a walk down cinematic memory lane while also allowing the film to be its own thing. Together with Hemingway the two craft a love letter to the vampire movies and the Bronx.

You know the story. Three boys Miguel (Jaden Michael), Bobby (Gerald Jones III), and Luis (Gregory Diaz IV) spend their days hanging out and bemoaning how all the shops and stores are leaving the neighborhood. A new real estate company, Murnau Properties, is buying up property all over the Bronx, even city hall. Soon they’ll find themselves dealing with the pressures of adolescence and blood-sucking vampires.

Rodriguez and Hemingway have a wonderful ear for dialogue and structure. The film opens with the audience being introduced to our characters and the neighborhood via a popular Instagram star who is live streaming as she walks around the neighborhood. I mention this because it shows how the two understand the relationship between younger people and social media and how they use it as a sort of local news source. 

Vampires vs. the Bronx understand Miguel, Bobby, and Luis. It never feels as if it’s looking down on kids today, instead they seem impressed by them. Miguel, after all, is nicknamed “The Kid Mayor” for his activism and desire to raise awareness about the gentrification of his neighborhood. 

His latest project is Tony’s (The Kid Mero), who runs the local bodega. Miguel is trying to organize a block party in order to save the bodega and while everyone sympathizes with Miguel’s passion many are merely too defeated to fight. Rodriguez and Hemingway clarify this repeatedly by having the parents shrug their shoulders. The city always changes, there’s nothing to be afraid of, and if they get paid, then they have no gripes about moving.

There’s an infectious energy in Vampires vs. the Bronx, it’s familiar but somehow every scene feels fresh and new. It’s a genre film that isn’t afraid of its genre. The film is having fun and doesn’t see any reason why we can’t either. After all, this is a film where the Preacher is played by Method Man.

Rodriguez and Hemingway don’t shy away from social commentary, granted, few horror films do. The all-white vampires of Murnau attempting to gentrify the Bronx may not be a subtle metaphor but it is effective and timeless. Plus, it never comes off as liberal lip service, the anger at gentrification and of the arrogance of the implied white supremacy is palpable.  

The film recognizes different cultures come at things different ways. Such as when Luis suggests they go to the cops. Miguel and Bobby disagree, except that Miguel says it’s because they don’t have evidence. “Not what I thought you’d say,” Bobby deadpans.

The boys are eventually joined by an older girl, Rita (Coco Jones), a crush of Miguel’s. She catches them sneaking into the church sacristy to steal holy water and Eucharists. The boys explain they are trying to fight vampires and Rita believes them and offers to help. 

The boys ask why she so readily believes them. She shrugs. “We’re Haitian, man. My grandma’s been preparing me for this all my life.”

Vampires vs. the Bronx feels like something I’d catch on television on a lazy Saturday afternoon. It’s not all that violent or scary while at the same time it’s not all that childish and infantile. Rodriguez has made a family horror film, the likes of which are quite rare outside of television.

Blake McClure, who shot the film, gives the film an 80s feel without resorting to an 80s aesthetic. The result is a film that feels nostalgic but looks very much of the here and now. Vampires vs. the Bronx pays homages to other films without wasting precious time creating more images for itself.

Vibrant and energetic the movie never loses steam. Too many movies lose their balance of horror and comedy and often times end up diluting one or the other. But here, the comedy never distracts from the action or the horror and in fact, plays into these elements making them stronger and more effective. 

A perfect example of this is when Miguel, Bobby, and Luis go to Murnau Properties to confront the owner Frank (Shea Whigham). The secretary smiles and tells the boy that he will be out in a minute. She pushes a button and suddenly metal sheets slide down over the windows to cut out the sunlight. The trio is horrified but also perplexed as to how something like that even works.

Or even better when Miguel’s Mom corners Tony and starts to yell at him for letting them watch Blade. Tony defends himself by saying they paid for the DVD but also questions how she knows. She pulls out her phone and pulls up Miguel’s Instagram to reveal a video of the four singing and dancing at Tony’s as they rave about the movie.

Not to mention both of these scenes do a magnificent job of giving us backstory into the world without ever stopping the movie to do so. The sliding panels over the windows tell us that the vampires have thought ahead and that they have done this before. While the other scene hints at a relationship between Tony and Miguel’s mother.

What exactly that relationship is left for us to decide. It could be that Tony is just a surrogate Father figure, someone who helps out with the kids when the other mothers are busy. Even so, it seems that Tony and Miguel have a closer bond than the other kids.

Vampires vs. the Bronx is a delight on all fronts. It’s fun for everyone. But it’s fun in that way, that means people of all ages can enjoy it; not in the sense that it’s some bland soulless spectacle. 

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Image courtesy of Netflix

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