This Halloween season, there’s only one thing spookier than vampires: gentrification. Vampires vs. the Bronx, a new Netflix film, premiered on Oct. 2 and imagines a West Bronx neighborhood on the brink of a vampire apocalypse by way of gentrification.
A slew of New York natives make their acting debut alongside the more-established careers of Zoe Saldana, Method Man, and The Kid Mero of Desus & Mero. Saturday Night Live’s Oz Rodriguez wrote and directed the film, which balances fiction with fact. Vampires vs. the Bronx weaves humor into horror and pays homage to classic vampire films, ultimately making an invaluable contribution to the folklore.
With the array of vampire movies already in the canon, newer interpretations of vampires can venture into different territories. It helps that Vampires vs. the Bronx makes clear that the film takes notes from the 1998 sci-fi horror film Blade. A trio of friends and a local bodega owner watch and study Blade to prepare themselves against the vampires lurking and infiltrating their neighborhood. Luis (Gregory Diaz IV) teaches his friends, Miguel/”Lil Mayor” (Jaden Micheal) and Bobby (Gerald W. Jones III), the basics on vampire slaying. Then, from watching Blade together, they realize that the vampires need permission to enter someone’s property, one rule that either saves or endangers other West Bronx natives.
Vampires vs. the Bronx alludes to famous vampire tropes in pop culture and reinvents them. The movie also works because it plays with stereotypes about gentrification and urban life. The Bronx is a majority Black and Hispanic area of New York City, which allows the natives to predict, quite accurately, which train stops and neighborhoods other people might be heading to. So in Vampires vs. the Bronx, when Vivian (Sarah Gadon), a white transplant, runs into the trio at night, they assume that she’s lost.
In its attempt to authentically capture the Bronx’s diversity, the film slightly over-poaches NYC slang with one too many iterations of “you bugging”’ or an over-emphasized “deadass.” Luckily, the way the film highlights ethnic diversity compensates for some of its cultural mistranslations to the big screen. It is clear that Rodriguez intentionally highlights the strong maternal figures of the Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Black friend trio and places other young, Black characters in strong-minded roles. The frequent use of Latin music, like bachata, throughout also upholds the film’s authenticity.
Where some films might represent social issues through a motif, Vampires vs. the Bronx makes the issue and repercussions of gentrification explicit—they are literally part of the plot, which leaves little room for straying interpretations. At the same time, because the movie is so straightforward, and isn’t that frightening, it feels over-simplified and targeted toward kids.
Vampires vs. the Bronx offers only a basic understanding of how gentrification works on the ground of urban, majority-minority neighborhoods. But gentrification and other social issues can be difficult to fit into a film under two hours, and this horror-comedy lightheartedly communicates valuable lessons in a quality production.
Featured image courtesy of Netflix