By Juan Calvillo
“Vampires vs. the Bronx” is campy and a bit rough, but a fun movie about fighting for and loving your town and friends. The Netflix original film weaves the sneaking vampire invasion of the Bronx along the more obvious gentrification of the borough. This makes for a fun, restrained, horror movie with plenty of in-your-face criticism of gentrification.
The movie’s themes are brought to life through the hard work of young actors Jaden Michael, Gerald Jones III and Gregory Diaz IV. The three friends find themselves at the center of efforts to stop the borough from losing more businesses to gentrification. Their attempts to save a local bodega from closing are what thrusts them into trouble from the beginning, and reveals that they need to fear more than just “white people with canvas bags.”
Each of the young actors does their best and it’s fun watching them go from friends to comrades in arms against the undead. Michael, playing Miguel Martinez, plays the activist hero perfectly, mixing the feeling of helping with the awkwardness of being a young teen. Jones III, playing Bobby Carter, is great at being the cool friend who is being seduced by the gang lifestyle. Finally, Diaz IV, who plays Luis Acosta, is the character and actor who should’ve had more screen time. His change from funny, hero knowledge specialist sidekick to self-possessed hero is fun to see. Seeing more of his funny one-liners throughout the end of the movie would have been hilarious.
The only sore spot comes from the late inclusion of Coco Jones as Rita as part of the hero group. At the onset of the movie Jones’ Rita is seen as a love interest for Michael’s character of Martinez. But her eventual turn is unforeseen and just plain awesome. Her inclusion might give vampire fans a nostalgic twinge of other vampire fighters.
The problem “Vampires vs. the Bronx” has is with its villains. The vampires are really more bark than bite, and while they do kill, it is often off screen. The special effects from vampires’ deaths are very reminiscent of the Marvel movies and the “Blade” series, with of course an eye on a smaller budget. Unfortunately, the lack of character depth is a bit annoying. Even the main vampire’s main mission seems a bit old hat.
The movie is co-written and directed by Osmany Rodriguez, director of television comedies like “The Last Man on Earth” and “A.P. Bio.” Thankfully, the funny moments outweigh the bland ones throughout the film, and Rodriguez handles the slight nods to other vampire movies perfectly. It’s other moments like the vampire attacks that are fully camp with super speed attacks and a rather off floating scene.
Most of the movie’s fun comes from the social commentary against gentrification and the interesting use of social media as an exposition tool. While the vampires are a physical threat, it’s the looming sense of loss of identity that gentrification brings that’s much scarier. That coupled with the sense of defeat some characters exude when they talk about the situation makes it scary to think. One of the more entertaining aspects is the use of social media when the need for information dumps are needed. It’s a unique way of getting information across quickly and with it being entertaining.
When it comes to the story, “Vampires vs. the Bronx” is a bit of a mixed bag, but the main characters save it from being lost in the Netflix shuffle of films.