Director: Oz Rodriguez
Writer: Oz Rodriguez, Blaise Hemingway
Producer: Lorne Michaels
Stars: Jaden Michael, Gerald W. Jones III, Gregory Diaz IV, Sarah Gadon, Method Man, Shea Whigham, Coco Jones, The Kid Mero, Chris Redd, Zoe Saldana
A battle to save their neighborhood from gentrification becomes a war against vampires for three Bronx boys and their friends.
Yesterday, I was searching through my archives trying to find a file on a film whose title I couldn¡¯t recall. Sifting through this digital dump without a compass made me realize how many movies I¡¯ve reviewed in just the past two years that my mind¡¯s memory never assigned more than a kilobyte of space to. Title after title I was asking, ¡°What even is this? I watched this?¡±
One of those movies was ¡°Rattlesnake.¡± Remember that one? Of course not. Even if you saw it, you don¡¯t remember it. ¡°Rattlesnake¡± (review here) was ¡®generic Netflix thriller¡¯ #16,537. I screened it one year ago almost to the day and undoubtedly wouldn¡¯t have seen, heard, or thought of it again had I not stumbled upon its folder accidentally.
This in turn reminded me that another recent review mused about how original features routinely drop on Netflix only to evaporate before an audience realizes they were there. The main reason is because mediocrity makes it not worth holding a forgettable film¡¯s hand to keep from getting lost in a crush of messy menus and minimal marketing.
Another reason has to do with the limited bandwidth people possess to pay attention to all of these releases. Last week I also read an editorial about the glut of genre movies that debut in October hoping to capitalize on Halloween fever, even though the most hardcore horror fan couldn¡¯t possibly find time to process these seemingly endless products. Distributors forget, October is also a time to revisit comforts and classics. We don¡¯t want two new fright films every day during the month. Stop the seasonal overload!
Now here it is November and I¡¯ve hit a quiet point in screeners because Halloween themes have come and gone while the Christmas chiller rush doesn¡¯t start its full court press until after Thanksgiving. Connecting all of the dots above got me thinking, ¡°What can I watch in the interim that I skipped in the Fall deluge, but won¡¯t become another black hole of faded interest like so many other straight-to-streaming stories?¡±
I¡¯d heard flattering smatterings about ¡°Vampires vs. the Bronx.¡± Not enough to make me think it had ¡®2020 Top Ten¡¯ potential like how word of mouth spread for ¡°His House¡± (review here). But the comedic sheen to a kid-centric story in an urban setting made the movie appear more worth my while compared to the seemingly formulaic frights of ¡°Spree,¡± ¡°Don¡¯t Look Back,¡± or whatever else fell off the DTV assembly line in October.
That¡¯s how ¡°Vampires vs. the Bronx¡± caught me off guard as a thoroughly enjoyable endeavor that left me grinning like a jack-o-lantern. Simultaneously, the lack of hullaballoo I¡¯d heard had me lamenting that even ¡°the good ones¡± fall victim to ¡®The Netflix Curse¡¯ of failing to feature prominently in pop culture discourse. ¡°Vampires vs. the Bronx¡± may as well be the poster child for how applying the same rubber stamp of fleeting recognition to Netflix releases results in great movies getting snubbed as easily as the ones that are not worth remembering.
I can¡¯t come up with good reasons to dismiss or even dislike ¡°Vampires vs. the Bronx.¡± What¡¯s worth complaining about? A more-or-less MacGuffin as a plot propeller? A couple of thin and/or stereotypical characterizations? Okay, I guess so. Those are minor penalties worth paying to trade for a nimble 80-minute runtime though.
Anti-SJW knights who invent reasons to be angry online might moan about made-up agendas or aim racism accusations at the premise. The setup of three kids rallying residents to battle bloodsucking vampires parallels perceived problems presented by gentrification. It¡¯s not even a parallel really. The ¡°evils¡± of gentrification are an open part of the plot. I suppose someone who waves a certain kind of flag will see something offensive about heroic brown people rising up against monstrous oppressors portrayed by white people. Realistically, ¡°Vampires vs. the Bronx¡± is only that sinisterly conspiratorial if you take offense to gags about artisanal butter shops.
¡°Vampires vs. the Bronx¡± reminds me of ¡°The Warriors¡± in that years from now, it will continue being a great time tunnel tour of the era and the area. Taking place mostly outside, ¡°Vampires vs. the Bronx¡± transports vicarious viewers to a vibrant neighborhood where everybody knows everybody and the blocks are full of brownstones, corner stores, bodega cats, basketball courts, fire hydrant showers, and hot dog carts. The rich New York vibe and diverse cast make the film feel like a breath of fresh air in both literal and figurative fashion.
¡°Vampires vs. the Bronx¡± doesn¡¯t attempt to overwhelm audiences with megawatt star power, even though there are a number of notable names. The charismatic kids are of course key, though secondary players fill out the flavor. Smaller roles amount to a collection of cameos, yet they still weave intricately into the fabric of the film¡¯s busily buzzing world.
It¡¯s fantastic to see Shea Whigham not playing the main bad guy for a change, but the #1 flunky with a touch of corrupt businessman flair. Method Man is hilarious as a priest keen to suspiciously side-eye the three Bronx boys for misbehavior, even while deep in prayer during a service. Chris Redd slips in for some quick shtick. The Kid Mero excellently embodies an affable bodega owner who befriends local kids by showing them R-rated movies (¡°Blade¡± at least), comping their Sprite sodas, and hosting video game nights at his place without there being an inkling of any uncomfortable creep factor.
¡°Vampires vs. the Bronx¡± also doesn¡¯t try to distract anyone with overblown effects or other smoke and mirror tricks. It¡¯s simply a sweet and slick effort full of energetic entertainment starting as soon as you press Play. Accessible to all ages, the movie bridges YA and adult horror without being insubstantial or condescending to any demographic. Imagine an edgier episode of ¡°Goosebumps¡± if that series aired on HBO Max instead of Fox Kids. That¡¯s not the best analogy, and likening the movie to a franchise targeted at tweens shouldn¡¯t earn an unfair impression of childishness. The film¡¯s spirited attitude just translates into terrific ¡°hangout¡± horror. If Netflix knew a proper way to promote, you¡¯d have already watched ¡°Vampires vs. the Bronx¡± and come to the conclusion it¡¯s the year¡¯s most fun fright film.
Review Score: 90