Vampires vs the Bronx
Director: Oz Rodriguez
Cast: Jaden Michael, Gerald W Jones III, Gregory Diaz IV, Sarah Gadon, Method Man, Shea Wigham
In the fine tradition of films such as Attack the Block and Cockneys vs Zombies, Vampires vs the Bronx is a low-key ode to both genre cinema and the power of minorities.
Given a subdued release on Netflix, the breezy little bear-hug of a movie gives a voice to the working class, and is just as passionate about the perils of gentrification as it is about the art of killing vampires.
Watch the Vampires vs the Bronx trailer here
When a coven of the undead begins taking over real estate in the Bronx to create a mass ‘nest’, a trio of teenage boys bands together to take them down. Miguel is the de facto leader of the group — he’s known in the neighbourhood as Lil Mayor — with the nerdy Luis, and considerably more hardened Bobby serving as sidekicks.
This a good movie, with colourful characters and a real sense of place. Even though the plot’s wafer-thin, the themes are as potent as the venom running through the vampires’ veins. Bobby, for instance, is expected by the entire neighbourhood to end up like his dad, a victim of gang violence. Lil Mayor, meanwhile, appears to be following in the footsteps of the Bronx’s favourite child, AOC.
It’s young Luis, however, who steals every scene. Described as ‘Puerto Rican Harry Potter’, he’s the most resourceful member of the gang, equipped at all times with holy water (packed into plastic bottles of Sprite), Eucharist (stolen from the church in a terrific ‘heist’ sequence), and pods of garlic (swiped from his grandmother’s kitchen). They also fashion wooden stakes out of baseball bats.
At roughly an hour and 20 minutes long, writer-director Oz Rodriguez barely allows his film (and his protagonists) room to breathe, which is fine. Vampires vs the Bronx is more concerned about its characters than character development; it’s more comfortable in quick comedic moments than large-scale action.
And unlike some of the more popular movies of its kind — Zombieland and the recent Get Duked! come to mind immediately — it is bloodless enough to be enjoyed by kids. That isn’t to say that it lacks bite, but it’s certainly not as hyper-violent as the Blade movies that Miguel, Bobby and Luis marathon as homework ahead of taking on the coven.
For the adults, there’s a palpable love for vampire cinema to admire — the evil real estate firm that the bloodsuckers use as a front is named after Nosferatu director FW Murnau, and in one scene, Shea Wigham’s character, as if channelling Bela Lugosi, recoils at the sunlight seeping in from his office windows and seethes, “The afternoon sun can be murder.”
Wigham’s is not the only bit of inspired casting that Rodriguez pulls off. Zoe Saldana appears in a cameo, Method Man stars as the local padre, and The Kid Mero plays the loveable bodega owner Tony. None of them probably spent more than a day or two on the film, but their involvement no doubt helped it get made.