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'Vampires vs. The Bronx' Review: Gentrification sucks

Osmany Rodriguez's 'Vampires vs. the Bronx' proves that New Yorkers can handle anything, even neck-biting real estate nightcrawlers.

The child heroes of 'Vampires vs. The Bronx.'
(Image: © Netflix)

Our Verdict

'Vampires Vs. The Bronx' uses classic horror villains to successfully tell a genre-masked story about cultural preservation and whitewashed erasures.

For

  • 🩸 The Bronx as a character.
  • 🩸 Strong youngster performances.
  • 🩸 Works as introductory horror.

Against

  • 🩸 Won't challenge diehard horror fans.
  • 🩸 Somewhat predictable.

Vampires vs. The Bronx is part of Netflix's Netflix & Chills lineup. 

In terms of gateway horror, Vampires vs. The Bronx holds weight both as a borough-specific bloodsucker narrative and an ode to community. Osmany Rodriguez conveys the uniqueness of growing up on today's streets, using vampires as soulless real estate agents, forcing an unwanted redesign in impoverished communities. It’s introductory in genre practices, as bike-gang kids gather knowledge before facing off against Transylvanian attired foes, but Rodriguez isn’t attempting to rewrite Dracula's lore. You’re here to watch Rodriguez (and co-writer Blaise Hemingway) give a voice to the voiceless, as Bronx characters champion heritage, spread bodega lovin’, and defeat white saviors who are anything but honorable.

Miguel Martinez (Jaden Michael) calls himself the “Li'l Mayor” of the Bronx. An entrepreneur, a fundraiser, and an advocate for his area code. Miguel’s latest endeavor is a block party in support of a local bodega that’s being forced out of business, run by friend and fatherly figure Tony (Joel “The Kid Mero” Martinez). Murnau Properties, managed by Frank Polidori (Shea Whigham), has been purchasing storefronts left-and-right to replace local businesses with brick oven pizza franchises or 9$ cappuccino cafes. Tony’s bodega will become another overpriced establishment if Miguel can’t raise enough capital, which brings him face-to-face with the team behind Murnau’s operation: fang-toothed, drink-your-blood vampires.

In a year that’s bursting with international horror representation, Vampires vs. The Bronx proves how much cultural resonance still exists on a domestic level. Social consciousness drives a vampire scourge that’s gentrifying an otherwise rich, expressive Bronx vibrancy. It’s on-the-nose, but never underserved. The idea of vampires preying on the underprivileged rings with oppression, as both monsters and residents remark about how no one cares who disappears in a place like Miguel’s home. Yet, apartments or playgrounds are never ghettoized or made to look uninhabitable. Quite the opposite. Rodriguez bands his characters together to fight for what they’ve cultivated, their traditions, in comparison to unwanted invaders homogenizing the landscape and erasing its unique accents.

The ensemble here proves tight and thick with New Yorker respect. I mean, Rodriguez cast one-half of the “Bodega Boys,” Bronx faithful The Kid Mero, as an actual bodega owner. Vampires vs. The Bronx is about experiencing adolescence around gang-bangers (Jeremie Harris as the slithery Henny), hard-knocks priests hellbent on keeping the youth in order (take-no-shit Method Man), and mothers with absolutely zero chill who’ll spank you up-and-down Broadway for disrespectin’ like a fool. Comedian Chris Redd heckles from a street side dominoes table (funnyman is funny), and we even get Zoe Saldaña sighting as a manicurist with suburban dreams who accepts Murnau’s property offer. Of course, this is the children’s show, which produces a more introductory horror tone.

Jaden Michael as Miguel, his horror-studied buddy Luis (Gregory Diaz IV), and troublemaker Bobby (Gerald Jones III) are thrust into vampire hunter roles at immature ages. Cue combat research by watching Blade, investigative hijinx that reminds of Stranger Things, and scoldings by parents hanging out second-story windows. Still, though, it’s all interwoven with criminal hazards and cityscape signatures. Of course, Blade is the iconic vampire hunter anyone in the Bronx references (“suckheads” used with glee). 

These young actors find thrills in their horror-forward altercations, comedy in public whoopings from mama (verbal or physical), and lessons veering away from the crooked roads their characters' parents paved. Bobby’s upbringing especially, as his mother strives to steer her son from her father’s gunned-down gangster fate. Stakes are both heavy and sharp, aided by Shea Whigham’s presence as Murnau’s imposing familiar, who owns his performance as “The Man,” the bastard, and most importantly, the dashingly devious. Even better, Sarah Gadon as the unassuming “nice” white lady who doesn’t fear thy Bronx neighbors, but maybe they should fear her in return.

Osmany Rodriguez blends these red-backlit, gothic castle “nest” locations with chainlink basketball courts and fire-hydrant water parks when it all comes together. Vampires vs. The Bronx plays “monster hunter” with a charismatic and genuinely heroic band of New Yorker tweens who aren’t allowed out past supper time yet still fight lords of the underworld. The inclusion of a social media influencer like Gloria (Imani Lewis), who acts as an intermittent narrator when livestreaming via “GloTV,” proves that “forgotten” neighborhoods can adapt but still retain their soulful roots. These aren’t areas that need to be cleaned out; they’re just communities in need of support. It’s not a flawless vampire thriller, but the smallest details (Sammy Sosa’s historic bat, for example) imbue authenticity. Vampiric cliches aren’t hidden, yet there’s a beating heart that’s never drained ghost-white at the core of this proud, casket-crashing standoff on sacred ground.

Vampires vs The Bronx hits Netflix October 2nd.