The latest addition to Netflix’s Halloween 2020 assemblage, ‘Vampires vs. the Bronx’ is a proud and unabashed homage to the 1980s camp horror classics like ‘The Lost Boys’, ‘The Monster Squad’, and ‘Fright Night’. From the camerawork to the editing to the score, the film resonates with a sense of nostalgia and a deep admiration for the movies that the filmmakers grew up with. However, what sets Osmany Rodriguez’s web film apart is that it deftly oscillates between absurdity and social conscience. It takes the age-old trope of youth standing up against evil and uses it to address a very sensitive modern issue, the gentrification of predominantly minority neighborhoods. SPOILERS AHEAD
Vampires vs. the Bronx Plot Synopsis
The film opens in a very typical horror fashion. Zoe Saldana makes a brief appearance as Becky, a local manicurist in the Bronx who has just sold her business to a real-estate developer. In short few minutes, Rodriguez masterfully uses the MCU actress’ star power and her character’s eventual death to set up the plot of the film. Miguel (Jaden Michael), Luis (Gregory Diaz IV), and Bobby (Gerald W. Jones III) are three friends with vastly different personalities. Miguel, despite his young age, is politically inclined (which has earned him the moniker Lil’ Mayor) and desperately trying to preserve the unique culture and social structure of his neighborhood against the onslaught of rapid real-estate development. Luis is a nerd and fiercely loyal toward his two friends. Bobby has lost his father to gang violence and is actively courted by the local gangsters to join their crew.
The film utilizes minor characters, a group of gamblers on the side of the road and a vlogging teenager, to give exposition both on the main characters and the current situation of the neighborhood. Several people have recently gone missing, but there is not much clamor about it. As Tony, a local grocery store owner, points out to Miguel and his friends, nobody will be bothered if any of them goes missing because they are from the Bronx.
One night, while hiding from a gangster, Miguel sees a vampire killing the aforementioned gangster and realizes that the neighborhood is facing an invasion by the creatures of the night. Their front is the same real-estate business that has been buying all the properties in the Bronx, the Murnau Properties. When he first tells his friends, they predictably don’t believe him. But once they see the coffins and the vampires, they come to the same conclusion as Miguel that the Bronx is in grave danger, and they have to do something about it.
By hiring three actors from minority communities to play the three main leads, Rodriguez gives a significant portion of his audience young heroes that they can relate to. Miguel, Luis, and Bobby represent the diversity of the Bronx and New York City at large. The filmmaker also subtly notes that none of them currently has his biological father involved in his life. While the film celebrates single motherhood through Miguel and Bobby’s mothers, it doesn’t totally ignore the importance of a father figure. Tony is that person for all three teenagers. He keeps them off the streets by letting them spend time in his store and play video games. This is why Tony’s death has such a resounding impact on all three protagonists.
The Murnau Properties
Rodriguez uses the vampires as the metaphor for the gentrification that rapidly sucks out the individuality of a community by drawing in affluent residents and businesses. In the film, the Murnau Properties, run by Frank Polidori (Shea Whigham), is gradually taking over all of the Bronx. While on the surface, they show a desire to develop the impoverished community, their real reason is much more sinister.
Like everything else in the film, the vampires are quite classical. They have traditional powers and shortcomings. They can be killed by exposure to sunlight, garlic, holy water, The Eucharist, and wooden stakes. They can’t enter a premise without an invitation. This is why they are purchasing properties in the Bronx, so they will not need permission to enter people’s homes and prey on them.
The film has a big surprise that it carefully hides until the final act of the film. Vivian (Sarah Gordon), the beautiful blonde who makes her first appearance in the opening scene itself and continues to sporadically and often strangely appear throughout the film, turns out to be the leader of the vampires. As she tells Miguel while standing on his door, she has been on an expedition to find the vampires a home where people don’t care if others disappear. According to her, the Bronx perfectly fits the bill. She tells Miguel to return her the key that Bobby stole earlier and is forced to retreat when he throws holy water at her.
The Raid at the Vampire Hideout
The three heroes gear up to go on a vampire hunt. The film heavily references the 1998 superhero vampire film ‘Blade’ as they arm themselves with wooden stakes, holy water, and garlic. Miguel, Bobby, and Luis are accompanied by Rita, Miguel’s crush who immediately believes him when he tells her about the vampires. When they arrive at the underground room where they had previously seen the coffins, they find Vivian’s sarcophagus empty. They tell Rita to go and call for help, while they look for the vampires. They find them in a room, hanging upside down from the roof. Miguel and Bobby quickly kill two vampires and Luis later incinerates a third by shoving the Eucharist down his throat. Vivian reveals to them that the key is for a box that contains the ashes of Murnau, the first vampire, and it is the key ingredient in creating other vampires.
While escaping from the vampires, the three boys are stopped by Polidori, but Bobby convinces him to let them go by relating his own story with the gangsters. He has finally left Henny’s crew for good after he was forced to choose between Miguel and Henny. Polidori, who is familiar with the vampires, realizes his own situation is quite similar to that of Bobby and lets them go. He is later killed by Vivian. The boys split up, and Vivian’s remaining accomplice is killed by Luis. Ultimately, it takes the entire neighborhood to come together and bring down Vivian. She tries to turn Bobby into a vampire but is killed by Miguel instead. These moments in the film are quite symbolic. It’s only through working together that residents of neighborhoods such as the one depicted in the film can withstand the advance of gentrification.
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