LIVING AMONG US
Director: Brian A. Metcalf
Cast: Thomas Ian Nicholas, Jordan Hinson, Hunter Gomez, John Heard, Esmé Bianco, Andrew Keegan, William Sadler, Chad Todhunter, James Russo
Running Time: 1:27
Release Date: 2/2/18 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik | February 1, 2018
If vampires were real, they would need an aggressive public-relations strategy. That's the underlying conceit of Living Among Us, which is set in a world in which the existence of vampires has been revealed to the public. It wasn't supposed to happen that way, but an outbreak of a vampirism-causing disease and the revelation that blood donation centers have been secretly feeding vampires for decades will cause a bit of a stir.
The first glimpse of a vampire here is on a TV news show, serving as a talking head arguing that all of the myths about vampires—which have become rumors about what actual vampires must be doing—aren't accurate. This is off-handedly amusing: Vampires are real, and their first public action is to assign a spokesperson to counter centuries' worth of bad press.
The rest of the movie isn't nearly as clever as its first, perhaps unintentional joke. That's because writer/director Brian A. Metcalf leads this subversive setup toward an obvious and predictable end. The question isn't how real vampires might be different from their mythical and Hollywood counterparts. It's how long it will take for the vampires to reveal themselves as the monsters that they actually are.
The difference is one of intent on Metcalf's part. The setup promises a comedy that subverts our expectations. The progression of the narrative, though, gradually brings everything down a more traditional path. By the end, what we get is little more than a standard horror movie, featuring a pack of murderous vampires and a trio of filmmakers who are more intent on getting good footage than on surviving.
After the prologue, we're introduced to those filmmakers. There's Mike (Thomas Ian Nicholas), an ace reporter who uncovered the blood bank conspiracy. There's Carrie (Jordan Hinson), Mike's right-hand woman who runs the technical side and has an on-off relationship with the journalist. Finally, there's Benny (Hunter Gomez), an upstart at a local news station whose brother-in-law (played by James Russo) runs the operation. Benny's the sort of cameraman who always keeps the camera running, even when someone tells him to turn it off or when he's in a one-on-one confrontation with a seemingly immortal creature that wants to kill him.
The trio's assignment is to interview a clan of vampires and to follow them on their night-to-night lifestyle. The patriarch is Andrew (the late John Heard), who insists that his makeshift family living in a suburban home aren't the monsters that everyone expects (There's an amusing moment when the filmmakers are called out for assuming that the vampires live in an old, abandoned house, instead of the perfectly nice one next door). The rest of the family includes Andrew's wife Elleanor (Esmé Bianco), the fame-hungry Blake (Andrew Keegan), and the quiet Selvin (Chad Todhunter). Later, Samuel (William Sadler), the representative of the local vampire branch, arrives to further assuage the public's fears.
Through a series of long interviews (Much of the opening act dumps exposition on us, even if we've already figured it out by the time the characters start talking), Mike and his crew learn the realities of vampires. There's not much difference from what the crew already knows, except that real vampires do cast reflections and that they persist that their days of killing humans to drink blood are behind them. Since vampires don't need to kill people in order to survive, humanity simply should allow them to live in peace and without any scrutiny. Obviously, it's only a matter of time before the actual truth comes to light.
Once we spot what's coming (It's fairly easy, since Blake says more about the vampires' activities than Andrew wants him to), the gimmick quickly falls apart. It's little help that the story's filmmakers don't possess much in the way of personalities. They mainly sit back, capture the footage, and bicker amongst themselves while the vampires are away (Much of the bickering is about Mike and Carrie's relationship, and even more is made about Benny's insistence on keeping the camera running—a joke that's funny the first time and transparently self-aware each and every following time).
The vampire characters fare a little better, if only because they offer the demented comic duo of Blake and Selvin. Blake is an egocentric vampire, determined to become famous by way of the documentary. If that means taking Mike and Benny on a nighttime hunt, so be it. Selvin is the quiet creep, who only offers one word through the entire movie: After ripping off a guy's arm and feeding on the victim's blood, he's asked how it feels, and Selvin offers, "Nice."
The rest of the vampires mostly imply what we've already inferred, before showing us how much of a lie the nice act is in a grisly scene of ritualistic sacrifice. From there, Living Among Us loses whatever comic aims it might have had for a descent into paranoia, threats, and chase sequences, as well as a literal descent into the vampires' off-limits basement. It becomes a routine horror show, losing its earlier wit and without a single character to fear or with whom to sympathize.
Copyright © 2018 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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