The bloodsucking nature of gentrification goes literal in Vampires vs. the Bronx, Directed by Oz Rodriguez, the PG-13 horror-comedy that just hit Netflix centers on three young friends who must battle the evil forces of white vampires, who’ve turned the boys’ hood into their new hunting ground. Brace yourselves, because you’re about to bite into a new family favorite.
Jaden Michael stars as Miguel Martinez, an Afro-Latino teen who loves his neighborhood. This is a place where everybody knows your name, as Rodriguez shows in an early sequence wherein Miguel rides around on a bike and is greeted warmly on every block. Then, he is gently mocked by the local queen of social media, Gloria (Imani Lewis), whose GloTV livestreams provide some swift exposition. The neighborhood is changing fast. Black-owned businesses are vanishing as are their owners. The real estate company Murnau Enterprises plasters the neighborhood in posters promising new businesses that’ll appeal to rich, white folk. Vintage clothing stores, small-batch butter shops, oat milk, and a Van Leeuwen Ice Cream cart begin creeping in. Meanwhile, Miguel is battling back with flyers for a fundraising block party to save Tony’s bodega, where he and his best friends, Bobby Carter (Gerald Jones III) and Luis Acosta (Gregory Diaz IV), “basically grew up.”
Then, Miguel starts to notice there’s something strange about these deathly pale gentrifiers, and it’s not just the way they aggressively over-pronounce “bodega.” They can’t be seen in the security mirrors of Tony’s shop. They don’t enter until he welcomes them in. Plus, Miguel has seen one suck a local tough guy dry. The trick is getting anyone to believe him, but his boys have his back. Together, they take notes on vampire lore and the Wesley Snipes movie Blade to prepare for their battle with these vicious vampires. Still, they’ll need more help to chase this evil out of the Bronx.
From the opening title card, Vampires vs. the Bronx gives off an ’80s vibe that embraces the Amblin aesthetic of allowing kids to seem like kids instead of pint-sized action heroes. Miguel and his crew not only combat the immortals but also must face the embarrassments of flubbing flirtations and getting publicly scolded by a dedicated single-mom, who will mention your dirty shorts in front of your crush (a dazzling Coco Jones) if you don’t clean your room. This charming trio comes to life through the earnest performances of Michael, Jones, and Diaz, who share an easy chemistry that makes their comradery feel real.
Adding oomph to the supporting cast are noteworthy names like Zoe Saldana, Chris Redd (also in this month’s excellent Scare Me), Method Man, Joel ‘The Kid Mero’ Martinez, Shea Whigham, Jeremie Harris, and Sarah Gadon. Meanwhile, the script by Rodriguez and Blaise Hemingway is rich with world-building details that thoughtfully present this invasion experience. There are little things, like the close-up of a requisite bodega cat then how the only thing the white people buy at the bodega is hand sanitizer and hummus. There’s Murnau Enterprises itself. Its name is a nod to famous filmmaker F. W. Murnau, who famously helmed 1922’s iconic Nosferatu, while the company logo is a portrait of Dracula inspiration Vlad The Impaler. Then, there are clever tweaks that combine standard vampire mythos with the Bronx’s cultural flare. So a treasured Yankee memento becomes a powerful weapon, a trip to church and some Sprite bottles help the boys gear up, and when is doubt, grab your abuela’s Garlic Adobo spice jar! In this way, the film is a celebration of the Bronx, its people, culture, and resilience.
Into this world, Rodriguez bleeds classic vampire iconography, like coffins, a clawed and creepy hand as pale as death, and fearsome fangs. However, some of these cultural collisions create plot holes. For instance, the boys steal a creepy key from Murnau’s offices. However, what it unlocks doesn’t connect to the vampire’s plan to overtake the Bronx. So, it seems a strange thread to unfurl. More frustrating, one vampire insists that like Miguel, they don’t want the Bronx to change. As it is, when a Black or brown resident vanishes without a trace, the systemically racist NYPD turns a blind eye. So in that way, the place is a perfect hunting ground. Yet if that’s the case, then why are the white vamps gobbling up all the buildings and pushing out the locals? While it’s great for the movie’s metaphor of bleeding a neighborhood dry and making its residents disappear, the in-movie logic of the plan falls apart under scrutiny.
It’s a flaw, but honestly, one I can’t care much about as Vampires vs. the Bronx is so absolutely thrilling, funny, and fun. It’s a terrific spin on the vampire genre, taking a Fright Night premise and putting it in a fresh setting with a biting political edge. But if you’re not the sort who cares about genre subversions or political subtext, it’s nonetheless a damn good time. Alive, inventive, and specific, this horror-comedy is an absolute winner.
Vampires vs. the Bronx is now on Netflix.
Header Image Source: Netflix