By Tom Moore
Netflix is full of horror gems that generally get lost within its vast, ever-growing library of content. There’s honestly so many movies that go unseen, we could probably cover a movie each day and have a couple months’ worth of content. There was one film last year though that most horror fans and Netflix users shouldn’t have slept on – “Vampires Vs. The Bronx” (2020).
The coming-of-age horror-comedy from writer/director Oz Rodriguez follows a trio of young friends forced to fend off a group of vampires attempting to take over their area of the Bronx. While it was beloved by critics scoring a 90% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a very solid 76 on Metacritic, it feels like it just came and went with barely a peep. As someone who watched it when it dropped last October, it had the makings of an instant crowd-pleaser and had very socially conscious themes of gentrification and community – a combination that can be tough to get right. We’ve seen plenty of horror movies try to dance with crowd-pleasing charm and biting social themes and end up stumbling over their own feet. “Vampires vs. the Bronx” glides with style and heart thoug,h and with “In Their Own League” throwing the spotlight on the legendary bloodsuckers this Halloween season, it’s the perfect time to talk about why “Vampires vs. the Bronx” is a worthwhile watch.
After a really rad cold open featuring an easily appreciated cameo from Zoe Saldana, Rodriguez excellently builds out the sense of community within the film’s titular Bronx neighborhood. Just as we’re introduced to the first of our young trio, community caring Miguel (Jaden Michael), Rodriguez also introduces the vibe and atmosphere of his community. As Miguel passes through the neighborhood, plenty of onlookers greet him with his community persona “Lil Mayor” and it’s this connective aspect of the community that shows how tight knit they are. This really feels like a community where everyone knows everyone, and it plays such a strong role into the charm and themes of “Vampires vs. The Bronx”.
The strong personable sense of the community makes a lot of the humor work and allows for smaller side characters to make big impressions. Every time Gloria’s (Imani Lewis) stream comes in, you know you’re about to get some hilarious dirt on characters and she’s brutally funny. It’s really funny to see Miguel’s attempts to talk to his crush Rita (Coco Jones) be bet on by a local peanut gallery and for Rita’s friends to totally ruin his chances. Even the moments where Miguel and his friends’ moms come in to totally embarrass them are fittingly hilarious and add this charming local flavor to the film. “Vampires vs. the Bronx” ends up being a very comforting watch because of how Rodriguez really captures the local feel of the community that’s felt through its coming-of-age trio.
Miguel and his best friends Bobby (Gerald Jones III) and Luis (Gregory Diaz IV) are a total delight with how they attempt to act older than they are. While Miguel is at the forefront of saving his disappearing community and Bobby tries to not make the same mistake his father did, they’re still kids. The group has a good sense of maturity and take stopping these vampires seriously, but still act out great “Blade” fantasies and make admirable amateur mistakes. They deal with more adult things but are still kids at heart and it’s kind of nice how that’s felt within the local bodega owner Tony (The Kid Mero) too. Their dynamic is a super warming surrogate father/mentor relationship that works well with the lead trio’s great performances. Their story is the definition of a great coming of age tale full of heart and growth, and their charm and relatability makes watching them take on vampires a total blast.
Vampires are always a treat to see for horror fans and even though this film can just hit on the basics and be a little too bloodless for my taste, watching Miguel, Bobby, and Luis deal with these vampires is a ton of fun. The way they go about the rules is nicely stylized and perfect for their personalities, and it’s great how they add in other elements of vampire mythology like familiars being human servants and the idea of them invading communities to strengthen themselves. Their designs are great and the arc of a newbie to the community, Vivian (Sarah Gadon), leads to an unexpected change in power. As a whole, the vampires are what you’d expect, but play a visual and thematic role in the “Vampire vs. the Bronx” being about gentrification.
With these pale white vampires coming in to remove the mostly black and Hispanic community, its gentrification themes are less than subtle, but that doesn’t mean they don’t leave an impact. Rodriguez adds in some nice visuals cues of stores being boarded up and posters of the realty agency the vampires are hiding behind being everywhere. Because the sense of community and personal connection between everyone is established from the start, it really feels like their culture and family are being ripped away so there’s a very emotional investment you feel in Miguel’s desires to keep the community intact.
It’s honestly what makes the community legitimately coming together in the end to defeat the vampires so damn satisfying and “Vampires vs. the Bronx” lives up to its name in a fulfilling and meaningful way. It’s ideas on gentrification and community never feel so in your face that you’re turned off by them and instead “Vampires vs. the Bronx” offers a touching story that reflects real-life issues that matter. In my mind, it’s a perfect horror companion to Joe Talbot’s equally under-watched “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” and has the power to tug at your heart.
It’s easy to look at something like “Vampires vs. the Bronx” and see it as disposable Netflix horror fodder, but it’s so much more than that. It’s the kind of film that people often look for as it excellently balances engaging horror comedy beats, a touching coming of age story, and meaningful depictions of real-life issues. “Vampires vs. the Bronx” has a sharp comedic and political bite that’s worth your time and is the perfect kind of light-hearted watch to add into your Halloween watchlist.