Title: VAMPIRES VS THE BRONX
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Oz Rodriguez
Written By: Oz Rodriguez and Blaise Hemingway
Starring: Jaden Michael, Gerald W. Jones III, Gregory Diaz IV, Sarah Gadon, Cliff “Method Man” Smith, Shea Whigham, Coco Jones, Joel “The Kid Mero” Martinez, Chris Redd, Vladimir Caamaño, Jeremie Harris, Adam David Thompson, Judy Marte, Richard Bekins, and Zoe Saldaña
Produced by: Lorne Michaels, Erin David
Movie Length: 1 hour 26 minutes
It’s barely October, but if you’re like me you’ve already got your pumpkins out, bats hung, potions brewing and horror movies queued for marathoning during the Spooky Season. But wait! Not all horror is wailing and gnashing of teeth! There are also plenty of horror-comedies you cannot miss during this Halloween-time, and if you thought your list was complete, you are dead wrong. Netflix and Lorne Michaels have teamed up to bring you a heck of a treat, I trick you not. VAMPIRES VS. THE BRONX from director Osmany Rodriguez is the next entry you should put into your watchlist if you like to mix cackling in with your spooky.
Immediately presented as a story for people of color to thrill over, VvtB is about a group of young Bronx-natives who discover that literal vampires are trying to carve out a nest in the heart of their neighborhood. Even worse, they are using the tried and true methods of gentrification, police bribery, manipulation and murder to do this. The resulting mayhem and slay-em, as you can imagine, is both chilling and amazingly funny. The dialogue is full of quick wit, but where this movie really shines is in its set dressing. Some of the made up names of the shops replacing long-standing small businesses throughout the movie are truly applause-worthy.
A cast of actors playing characters true to their ages is already a great look, in modern cinema. Moreover, the bright joy of Dominican, Haitian, Cuban, and other mixed-race actors of color playing characters with similar backgrounds should not go unignored – it’s a spectacular example of How To Movie that other filmmakers should take heed of. Particularly in this genre, there has historically been too much emphasis placed on hoodie-horror (i.e. black men as universal antagonists), black existential horror (a la Get Out), or tropism (see “the black guy dies first”). With 2019’s LITTLE MONSTERS and now with VvtB, I believe we are seeing a fresh and exciting trend toward more complex depictions of POC characters. Moreover, we’re getting more stories celebrating black joy as a crucial and damn enjoyable piece of the cinema pie.
Perhaps this is why it’s so refreshing to also see a cast so properly stacked with awesome creatives – rappers, comedians, writers, and the fresh faces of newcomers Jaden Michael and Gerald W. Jones III along with rising star Gregory Diaz IV. These young men put on such a performance! They will have you cackling one minute, then hand-over-your-heart-ing the next. They manage to cleanly show the kind of struggle constant to so many people of color in modern America, and particularly for Black Americans: we are under attack, to the very point of our dying, but no-one believes us.
The details in this Fall film are what make its depictions of the Bronx feels so true-to-reality despite the presence of actual garlic-hating vampires (though I also find it hilarious that the old white blood-suckers coming in to take over the town hate garlic, the single most important flavor in MANY ethnic cuisines). This movie depicts the Bronx not so much as a place, but a collective of specific peoples: the tech-savvy, trendsetting youth; diverse bi- or tri-lingual families; single moms or nanas and other close-knit adults in the community who share some ownership of raising the neighborhood kids. These concepts are all intrinsic to living in the ethnic neighborhoods of New York, Los Angeles, and every other major city. Ganglife recruiters, apathy, and yelling are as much a part of these communities as churchgoing, a passion for social justice, togetherness, and block parties. The typos in the signage of the Dominican-owned nail salon are as much a part of the world-building here as the idea of your uncle (no relation) letting you watch a monster movie your mom won’t let you see, but there are more important aspects to catch as well. VvtB manages to display racial tension in a way that feels authentic and sincere, not hamfisted or candy coated. This is largely due to the complex performances delivered by its leads. Jaden Michael’s “Lil Mayor” sees and understands the way his neighborhood has been largely disregarded by the surrounding city. The Bronx is known for pervasive poverty, gangs, crime, and a general absence of white people. Given the changes Brooklyn has faced in the last several years, the Bronx seems like a borough ripe for gentrification to sneak in and, dare I say, whitewash the neighborhood.
In many ways, Lil Mayor is already familiar to us. He is a typification of the fired up global youth who are currently nailing productivity and action in the face of systemic and increasingly violent racism. This movie offers us just one analogy that is almost too perfect – one in which old blood-suckers sit in power heading corporations that work to chew up close-knit neighborhoods of mom’n’pop shops and spit out cookie-cuttered “macchiato money,” to quote the film. In a world where standing up for what’s right can and will get you into trouble, this story feels extremely relatable. I also should note that the likening of Bobby’s struggle to resist the pull of gangs to Frank’s journey toward forsaking the vampires is a stroke of genius. In short, the scariest part of this movie is the possibility of realizing how you, the viewer, may have contributed to the continual gentrification of our most culture-rich neighborhoods. The most joyful part, however, is the sentiment at the movie’s end that says there is a way to fight back against people who want you eliminated. If there’s a moral to VvtB, it’s that there is a way to defeat those vampires, and it’s not necessarily with weapons or garlic but by standing together, fighting together, praying together, and making sure you always post the video proof on youtube.
My Grade: A.
VAMPIRES VS THE BRONX is now available on Netflix.
Have you already watched the movie? Are you going to? Want to talk to me about it? Feel free to chat with me on Twitter or leave a comment below!