Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Vampires vs. the Bronx – review

Director: Osmany Rodriguez

Release date: 2020

Contains spoilers

Vampires vs. the Bronx was a Netflix production, released at the start of October as we entered the Halloween season. As we will explore this horror-comedy, that is pretty much kid friendly, has a pedigree that stretches from the Lost Boys, though the adult horror elements are turned down by a noticeable notch. On the other hand, this actually addresses some social issues within its running length.

It is also referential to the genre throughout and it doesn’t hide that connection back to the genre roots. This can be seen in the very first scene.

Murnau properties sign

We see a welcome to the Bronx sign, which turns out to be a digital sign on a taxi that becomes an advert for Murnau properties. Murnau ties back to FW Murnau, of course, the director of Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens. The company’s logo is a woodcut rendition of Vlad Ţepeş. In this way VvtB wears its genre heart on its sleeve. Vivian (Sarah Gadon, the Moth Diaries & Dracula Untold) crosses over to a beauty salon to get a manicure. In conversation she reveals she has just moved to the Bronx, priced out of her previous accommodation.

Zoe Saldana as Becky

Becky (Zoe Saldana) admits that a company (Murnau) have offered silly money to sell the salon and she has accepted it. This is the last manicure she’ll be giving. As Vivian leaves, Frank Polidori (Shea Whigham, Blood Creek) enters. He is the agent for Murnau and has come to finish the paperwork. As he does he asks Becky about her attachments – establishing that she has none. Behind her we see a man emerge, Alexis (Adam David Thompson), fangs appear and he attacks Becky. Of course Polidori is named for John Polidori and his first name Frank ties him to Mary Shelley and therefore the events of Villa Diodati.

touring the 'hood

Miguel (Jaden Michael), known as Lil’ Mayor, is riding around the neighbourhood on his bike putting up posters for a bloc party he has arranged that is a fundraiser to save the local bodega run by Tony (The Kid Mero). Everyone seems to know Lil’ Mayor, despite his young age. Tony has started introducing more hipster products in the store but is clearly struggling, and Lil’ Mayor and his friends Bobby (Gerald Jones III) and Luis (Gregory Diaz IV) have hung around the store their entire life. Meeting with Bobby they bump into the older Rita (Coco Jones) and her friends (Rita is 16). Lil’ Mayor is trying to act cool but his mother (Judy Marte) shouting from the apartment window embarrasses him.

reading Salem's Lot

When Bobby and Lil’ Mayor finally meet Luis, it is dark. Luis is reading Salem’s Lot – and the theme of the vampire invading a town is clearly on par with this film (although, in this case, it's a neighbourhood invaded). Local gangbanger Henny (Jeremie Harris) drives by with his crew and it is clear that he has been approaching Bobby, trying to tie him into his gang. This is one of the social themes that runs through the film. As the film progresses, we discover that Bobby’s father was involved in the gangs and his mother is desperate to keep him out of trouble. The theme is nicely weaved into the film and the resolution moment very well done.

Luis and Blade

So, Lil’ Mayor ends up on his own and pursued by Alexis. He accidentally rides his bike into one of Henny’s crew, Slim (Germar Terrell Gardner) and is also chased by him. He ends up seeing Alexis hypnotise and kill Slim, floating into the air whilst he feeds. This lets him know that the Bronx is being invaded by vampires; he subsequently convinces his friends but not the adults. The fact that footage he captures of Alexis in his coffin doesn’t show the vampire doesn’t help. Which brings us to lore... 

staked by skateboard

Sunlight is a thing and a stake to the heart kills (they dust), invitations are needed and holy water boils/bubbles when near a vampire. This leads to a slight issue when holy water in a balloon held bursts as they approach the vampires, but the rest of the balloons/bottles stay intact. Turning only occurs if the person has been exposed to the dust of the (deceased) master vampire before being bitten. A staking by skateboard was particularly satisfying. Luis’ is the keeper of knowledge in this, they also use Blade as a lore source.

rise like Nosferatu

So, this takes us to the underlying theme and that is colonisation. There are four vampires and a vampire commander in the Bronx and they are part of an expeditionary force. The vampires are looking for a new home. However, if Dracula was about reverse colonisation, this is not. This is colonisation under the banner of urban gentrification. The Bronx residents are shown as ethnically diverse, the vampires (and their familiar, Frank) are all white. There is a known racial/racist element to urban gentrification, where segregating systems have often formed the existing shape of US residential landscape and the gentrification very often pushes the local ethnically diverse population out as white residents move in. 

Gerald Jones III as Bobby

The vampires/gentrification process sucks the life from the community and, in this case, the vampires want a population of people who will not be missed to feed on (those left behind). Lil’ Mayor invites Vivian, who has spontaneously mentioned not phoning the cops in their conversation, to the bloc party. Bobby, when she moves away, remonstrates suggesting that someone who says they won’t phone the cops definitely will – this speaks to the multiple examples of white women in the USA spuriously calling the police on black men, in particular.

friends become slayers

I mentioned that this has elements of the Lost Boys. This is within the three young teens discovering and fighting the vampires (though there is no older brother half turned) and is particularly noticeable when they find the vampires hanging from a ceiling and Lil’ mayor climbs up (scaffolding) and stakes one. They are more successful than the Frog Brothers were in the scene this speaks to, but it was immediately reminiscent of the older film. Another connecting theme was the fact that none of the boys have a father figure in their lives. We know Bobby’s is dead, we do not hear about Lil’ Mayor’s or Luis’, the latter seeming to live (or be staying) with his grandmother. Tony has been a surrogate father figure, of course, but it is the immediate paternal figure we are talking about. In the Lost Boys Sam and Michael's father is absented through divorce. 

Rita (centre) and friends

The acting was fine for what this is, but I need to specifically mention Coco Jones who particularly shined. Her character believes the boys' story because her family is from Haiti and she has been prepared for this. Whilst this is great, the film then successfully does its best to sideline her involvement and this was a mistake. She needed to be used much more as a character. That said, this was an enjoyable romp. There is little in the way of gore as it is kid accessible (with a pg-13 rating). I certainly was not bored but the story itself is very simplistic and not something we haven’t seen before. That said the underlying socio-political themes are well done, and welcome. 6.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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