Vampires vs. the Bronx (2020)
★★ / ★★★★
Gentrification is vampirism appears to be the message in “Vampires vs. the Bronx,” a family-friendly horror-comedy that could have used a handful more scares to become memorable. It proves capable of milking key moments, like when a wooden coffin is opened and a sleeping bloodsucker suddenly wakes, how cameras and mirrors cannot capture their image, when their white faces turn thick and rubbery right before they go for the kill. These elements are not new, but they are executed rather well. But in terms of delivering consistent thrills, it is an area of improvement. When you’ve got nothing new to offer, make sure viewers overlook it.
Miguel (Jaden Michael), Bobby (Gerald W. Jones III), and Luis (Gregory Diaz IV) are best friends who discover that vampires are surreptitiously taking over their neighborhood. They are written as affable, level-headed teenagers who grew up in a diverse, working-class community; immediately we see how important The Bronx is to them not through their words but actions. For instance, they notice local businesses being bought and closed down as of late. They make their stand by trying to raise enough funds so that Tony’s bodega (Joel “The Kid Mero” Martinez)—a convenience store that welcomed them to hang out inside rather than outside where they might get into trouble with gangs and drug dealers—might avoid meeting the same fate.
The screenplay by Oz Rodriguez (who directs) and Blaise Hemingway is efficient in establishing a sense of place and community. The Bronx is a melting pot of food, cultures, ethnicities, languages. We feel the strength and tightness of this community. But it is not without dangers. Bobby, for instance, is being recruited by a known drug dealer (Jeremie Harris) to join his crew. Curiously, Bobby considers enlisting despite knowing that his father was killed precisely because he was involved in selling drugs. Clearly, the creatures of the night are not the only antagonists here. I enjoyed that at one point, however brief, vampires and drug dealers end up working together. Because, in a way, their endgame is the same: to suck the life of a community, to kill its potential, its future.
But this isn’t to suggest that the material takes a heavy-handed approach. No, not even when it appears that the boys lack father figures at home or that every white person we encounter is suspicious at the very least. For the most part, the mood is light, the pacing breezes by, and there is constant forward momentum. Even when vampire basics are introduced (what they are, the rules they must follow, what slows them down, what kills them), it never feels laborious. There is an effortlessness that’s quite refreshing. There isn’t a whiff of forced dialogue.
There is room for creative scares. For instance, the vampire in charge seems to have unlimited funds and can purchase entire buildings at a drop of a hat. That rule about the bloodsuckers having to be invited in is thrown out the window when they actually own the apartment complex. Although this idea is introduced, it’s disappointing that nothing is actually done to execute it. It’s the perfect setup for an all-you-can-eat-buffet. Another idea: Have the cops—or one cop—actually do something. There is a joke or two about them being useless in a neighborhood like The Bronx. Why not add dimension to the joke or perhaps even upend it? Surely these ideas are not too complex or too scary, even for a horror-comedy intended for the whole family.