Vampires vs. the Bronx (2020)
PG-13 for mild language and a bunch of horror. When I started watching this, I simply assumed it would be an R-rated movie. Then I noticed that the movie kind of went out of its way not to swear or show a bunch of blood. Don't get me wrong. It's in there. It's just not all the way through the movie. There's no sex or nudity. But there are jokes that are seeded with innuendo. There are some jokes that come across as blasphemous. I wouldn't call the film family friendly, but it is fairly tame for a horror movie.
DIRECTOR: Oz Rodriguez
This is it. This is what I didn't know that I needed out of the 2020 film slate, but got by the grace of God. I'm a big fan of the film The Lost Boys. It's probably a crime that I haven't watched it since setting up this film blog. But there have been a number of movies that have tried to capture the magic that comes from that very specific blend of kids fighting vampires and have outright failed in that task, including some very poorly made sequels to The Lost Boys. I know that this might upset the Monster Squad fans out there, but I really haven't found a movie that has so jumped to my heart in terms of fun horror for a while. I especially can't believe that I found it in a PG-13 direct-to-Netflix film, but here it is.
Vampires vs. the Bronx seems like it would be a forgettable film. When I saw the Broadway Video production screen and Lorne Michaels's name all over this movie, I thought it was going to be pretty disposable. Shy of their prestige and artsy ventures, a lot of the direct-to-Netflix market just stays in the realm of fun. Bronx is super fun, but it also doesn't forget the key attraction to good horror: allegory and theme. I'm not sure which horror creatures is more open to providing social criticism, the vampire or the zombie. But I will tell you, when vampires are used to deliver scathing social commentary, it tends to work really well. I won't lie, The Lost Boys probably won't lose its title spot for most fun horror movie. But I also acknowledge a lot of that comes from nostalgia more than anything else. But Vampires vs. the Bronx surpasses The Lost Boys by miles in terms of understanding that there is something to say.
And it isn't like Vampires vs. the Bronx is trying to hide it either. As much as the villains of the piece are vampires, the movie clearly alludes to the notion that the vampires are simply white people gentrifying neighborhoods for their own pleasure. (I now feel really bad for supporting OTR at times.) The inciting incident for the film really isn't the murder of a gang member by vampire (although if I was putting it on a plot mountain, that's where I would stick the film). Little Mayor is fighting urban development and corporate culture. The Murnau corporation, named lovingly after the director of Nosferatu, is buying up all of this property and evicting the tenants of the Bronx. That's the central problem. It just so happens that those corporate bloodsuckers are actual bloodsuckers, which makes the movie fun.
For as much as the movie is tonally like The Lost Boys, it spiritually almost feels like more of a spiritual successor to Do the Right Thing. Little Mayor, mainly because he's a kid, acts as the supervisor of the neighborhood. With Lee's Do the Right Thing, we had the old mayor, who was considered a joke. Little Mayor isn't taken particularly seriously, but he has this almost saint-like disposition to taking care of those people around him. He's obsessed with saving Tony's Bodega, a representation of the cultural heart of the neighborhood. It's such an interesting statement to see Little Mayor play the part of savior and not Tony himself. After all, it seems to be a common thread throughout the film that the owners of these businesses know that they are kind of selling their souls when they accept Murnau's money. I was questioning the behavior of the vampires with how they were buying off the land. The in-universe canon is probably what the vampires did with the protagonists' apartment complex. They buy the building so they don't need an invite to enter. To have a familiar facilitate the deal allows the vampires the moment to enter the building safely. I was wondering why they were throwing money at every problem just to kill the recipient of the money. But from a spiritual perspective, it's the owners selling their neighborhood out. By being devoted to the the Bronx and keeping their businesses out of the hands of corporate interest, they are safeguarding a spiritual and moral good. When they accept the money in the name of greed and self-interest, that's when the vampires are allowed to get them. Even though the sin is understandable, the sin is also what gives the evil justification for their meals.
I mean, we all knew that Vivian was evil from moment one, right? Like, I'm giving all the points to Sarah Gadon for being this white lady to root for. But we knew from the moment that Little Mayor took pity on her that she was the worst, right? When she said all of these self aware things, we knew either that she was already a vampire or was going to be a vampire. I didn't think that she was the head vampire, but the message there is glaring. There are the "good ones". But that wasn't what the message was about. Vivian represents the comfortable ally. She's this person who seems to be on a team, but really tries assimilating the culture to her own personal needs. I love that everyone addresses her like they are going to turn the music down because this tiny white lady was simply at their door. But adding to the whole allegory, holy moley, this works.
The only thing that didn't have any kind of value to me, which docks it from getting a perfect score, was the master plot involving the box and the key. The key reveals this ancient artifact of the dust of the old master. Now, I'm not sure exactly what that was supposed to do. It supposedly allowed vampires to make more vampires. I didn't know that it wasn't an option from moment one. I was actually kind of surprised that all of these former characters weren't being converted into vampires. I suppose that wouldn't have worked out with the allegory of the white invaders into the Bronx. But the dust thing is 1) pretty darned silly and 2) doesn't really go anywhere. At one point Bobby gets that stuff all over him and nothing really comes of that. If you are going to threaten a best friend fight, there better be a best friend fight at one point in the story. That never really happens here. Instead, it is simply a very low stakes (pun intended) attempt at scaring us despite that nothing came of it.
I really want to know the faith of Oz Rodriguez. For some elements, the movie absolutely nailed Catholicism. Some really weird things are just so specific. But then there are just absolutely bizarre moments that don't read anything like Catholicism. Fr. Jackson, while people bow their heads waiting for a blessing, just leaves to follow some kids during Mass? Also, people's senses still work during their heads being down. No one goes into a meditative trance bordering on sleep. It's a goofy moment in the movie.
But Vampires vs. the Bronx was such a fun film. I wouldn't actually hate watching it again in a year or two. It does such a good job of capturing the kids-in-peril trope while maintaining a sense of fun. It delivers on content, which is what great monster movies are supposed to do. This movie slays.
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