★★★ out of ★★★★★
At the Scariest Things Podcast we pride ourselves for being THE gateway to the trends and tropes of the horror genre. Sure, sometimes we wander in to the deep and dark recesses of the genre. We give Anthropophagous an extra viewing here/there. We cringe when we (re)watch Audition. We think twice about watching A Serbian Film. But, mostly we want to invite everyone in to the never-ending thrill ride that is horror. Sometimes that thrill ride includes PG-13 fare like Vampires vs. the Bronx.
Directed by Osmany Rodriguez
Everyone should be part of the horror party and that includes the kids. They need a gateway too! Enter 2020’s Vampires vs. the Bronx. If you’re 10 years old, Netflix has your number. Directed by former Saturday Night Live alumnus, Osmany Rodriguez, this film exists in a perfect world of innocence parked right on the edge of grit, humiliation, and life’s harder lessons courtesy of puberty. Following a hyper-clumsy clique of ernest pre-teens, Rodriguez manufactures a parallel world of the Bronx in an equally awkward economic transition.
Turns out, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, and African Americans are being displaced by a figurative and literal age-old manifestation of gentrification — Vampires. They’re not just hell-bent on killing for bloodsport. Their evil agenda includes artisan cheese, high-end lamp dealers, and businesses that make you wonder if you’re buying a couch or the latest herb scissors. The vampires are slowly making their bloody imprint on the community just as the well-meaning Miguel Martinez (Jaden Michael) is working to save the last vestige of communal normalacy — the Bodega.
Miguel and his pals Bobby (Gerald Jones) and Luis (Gregory Diaz) have been raised by the bodega that’s slowly being placed in the unfortunate position of having to stock kombucha, kale, and hummus. Along the way this terrible teen trio is forced to contend with unholy gentrification, poorly attended church services, and neighborhood ruffians who may/may not be plying the community with drugs. Dotted throughout their adventures are encounters with neighborhood fixtures featuring sadly underutilized performances from SNL’s Chris Redd and Method Man. The trio also has several prescient run-ins with an effervescent and upwardly mobile gentrifier, Vivian (Sarah Gadon).
The vampires do eventually begin to co-opt everything in their sight. Real estate, drug dealers, the police, and even the boy’s parents. Unfortunately, the rationale for their demonic gentrification is an uneven tale about the geographic placement of the ashes of the original vampire and desire for the newly formed vampiric community to exist in the Bronx. Make no mistake, the vampires are not a subtle allegory for unequal distribution of wealth and the dismal trappings of class warfare. Quite the opposite, this tale is a full throated assault on the housing and economic shortfalls of nearly all large American cities. As a gateway to this heady topic it’s a perfect introduction to the heroes and villains that exist in our unapologetic and disproportionate society.
Beforewarned, Vampires vs. the Bronx is not the Exorcist, nor is it the latest installment of the Conjuring. It’s a fairly complete hero’s story told through the well-meaning eyes of young boy who is sorting through life’s complexities in the context of his spatial existence. The scares are mild and the vampires are even milder. What Vampires vs. the Bronx offers is not a dose of nightmare fuel that will have you crawling to your psychotherapist, but a tale of good vs. evil told in the simplest terms that will have you contemplating other more sophisticated tales of terror.
Vampires vs. the Bronx is PG-13 and currently streaming on Netflix.