Selling Vampires vs. the Bronx as “Attack the Block meets The Lost Boys” might be accurate, but it does a disservice to the film by setting an impossibly high standard that it can’t hope to reach. Judged on its own merits, however, Vampires vs. the Bronx is a rollicking, family-friendly movie that possesses depth beyond its superficial genre trappings.
Like Attack the Block, the plot revolves around a group of black and brown inner-city kids — aspiring community activist Miguel AKA “Lil’ Mayor” (Jaden Michael), geeky Luis (Gregory Diaz IV) and Bobby (Gerald Jones III), who’s trying to not follow in his father’s criminal footsteps, plus Miguel’s voice-of-reason crush Rita (Coco Jones) — defending their home against supernatural invaders. Unlike Attack the Block’s aliens, it’s vampires who are the interlopers here, buying up buildings in the neighborhood and using a company called Murnau Properties as a front for a massive vampiric influx. When the kids uncover the plot, it’s up to them to stop it from coming to fruition.
It’s a clever spin on the issue of gentrification, which has spread into the Bronx in recent years, spawning the hip moniker “SoBro” for South Bronx while triggering a spike in housing prices, pushing out working class (read: black and brown) residents. It’s no coincidence that the vampires in the movie are white and upscale; they symbolize the very real phenomenon of affluent outsiders overrunning a neighborhood — “sucking” the life out of it in the process. And with the Bronx being by far the least white (30%) of New York City’s boroughs, it’s an all-the-more conspicuous target.
In the process of skewering gentrification, Vampires vs. the Bronx manages to tackle even more widespread social issues like racism, police indifference and governmental neglect. While race isn’t discussed explicitly, the difference between the pallid vamps and the black and brown Bronxites is evident, and when one vampire threatens his black victim with the line “We’re going to wipe you out like the vermin you are,” you can’t help but wonder if the “vermin” are humans or people of color. Later, another vampire explains their choice of the Bronx to the protagonists with an indictment of the police and the general attitude towards working class minorities, saying “It’s easier to live somewhere where no one cares when people disappear.”
These are serious topics, but Vampires vs. the Bronx manages to package them in a lighthearted tween horror-comedy without dismissing their importance. It harnesses the ability of horror, perhaps more than any genre, to address deeper subject matter through allegorical and symbolic content and even adds a family-friendly twist that encourages discussions between parents and children on issues that may be hard to bring up.
What isn’t common in horror, though, is the diversity of ethnicities on screen in Vampires vs. the Bronx — primarily black, Latin and Afro-Latin characters — whose striking appearance is a reminder of how much horror movies are still largely white and suburban/rural affairs. Puerto Rican, Haitian and particularly Dominican heritages (writer-director Osmany “Oz” Rodriguez repping the latter) are called out with pride, and the community as a whole is vibrant and willing to come together for its preservation.
Vampires vs. the Bronx’s message has teeth, even if its horror content doesn’t. This is a “soft” PG-13 film that makes for a nice introduction to horror for younger viewers, but genre fans will find the lack of scares and blood a bit too tame — especially for a vampire movie. Rodriguez has made a name for himself primarily in TV comedy (most notably Saturday Night Live’s digital shorts), so cinematic action doesn’t seem to be his strong point, but there are some fun homages to modern vampire classics like The Lost Boys, Blade, Fright Night and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, plus some innovative additions to vampiric lore — like holy water bubbling when vampires are near.
Despite its overall genre shortcomings, though, Vampires vs. the Bronx’s well-executed humor, likable characters, stellar cast (including small but memorable roles by Method Man, Zoe Saldana and Chris Redd) and infectious energy are more than enough for a good time, especially if you look at it more as a family movie than a fright flick.