Parenthood changes you. It’s not for everyone and there’s good reason for people wanting to avoid it ever happening to them, but, for those who do become parents (by birth, by adoption, however), there’s a palatable shift in how one engages with the world. What we want or need moves to second place as we make room for the new person with their own wants and needs that, depending on their age or disposition, they may not be able to ask for them clearly. From simple things like errands to eating out to traveling, everything is bigger or more expensive, all because of the responsibility of parenthood. Speaking frankly, there are days in which the constantly putting your child first is hard and, surprisingly, vampire horror comedy Blood Relatives nails the complexity with humor, heart, and grace.
Francis (Noah Segan) is a drifter by choice, never settling down in one place for too long, driving his soft blue muscle car up one part of the country and down another. He once had roots as a Jew in Europe, but that was nearly 100 years ago and, since becoming a vampire, staying in one place too long tends to bring about attention. All this changes for Francis when he finds a young girl, Jane (Victoria Moroles), outside his motel door, claiming to be his 15-year-old daughter. What’s a 115-year-old vampire constantly on the move supposed to do? Put down roots? Play dad? This is the question he’s forced to answer as suddenly Francis has more than himself to worry about for the first time in decades.
Blood Relatives is the first time Segan, known primarily for his work in front of the camera in films like Looper (2012), Knives Out (2019), and The Pale Door (2020), has also worked in the director’s chair in a feature film capacity. Previously, he wrote and directed one of the Scare Package (2019) segments. Rather than sharing with other writers and directors, Segan’s Blood Relatives is entirely his own and comes from a rather personal place. In his official director’s statement in the press materials, Segan says, “After 15 years of making fun/weird/cool movies, I had a kid. And, all of a sudden, this cinematic vampire had to be a dad.” Even without this knowledge, it’s clear that Blood Relatives is a film about one person coming to terms, a reckoning of sorts, with themselves and who they want to be in light of shifting perspectives. In the case of the film, all of it is heightened by the fact that our lead character, Francis, is not only a vampire, he’s a man old enough to have survived the Holocaust. These factors give the character weight as he reconciles who he is as a vampire versus who he must become as a father. Can he still be himself, wearing his patented leather jackets, killing the occasional human for sustenance, and also make sure that his 15-year-old daughter *that he’s just met* has a roof over her head, gets her homework done, and safely learns the ways of the vampire to better harness her inherited gifts? This is where much of Blood Relatives gains its narrative weight, the vampirism angle a way to generate genuine laughs while also being a metaphor for the way in which one’s idea of themselves is perpetually the same in our minds, immortal almost, even as the world continues to turn around us.
For those that are seeking a gorefest, I’m not sorry to report that you will be disappointed. While there is room for gore in a late stage coming-of-age story, it doesn’t make as much sense here. Segan’s Francis is particular in his actions, methodical in what he does and how, in order to make as little a mark as possible. The strange thing about this is how in line with the experience of faith it is. It’s not that Judaism is meant to be practiced “out loud” in the way that capitalism pushes Christianity, but tucking one’s faith away carries with it a stigma from centuries of having to do exactly just that in order to survive. Before the yellow stars, there were other forms of persecution that lead to banishments, conflicts, and flat-out wars. Going further, from the few lines dropped here and there, as well as a specific backstory, the audience learns that Francis is not only Jewish, but speaks Yiddish, a dialect with roots in Germany and other parts of Europe from before the Holocaust. In my experience, raised as a Reform Jew, Yiddish was spoken by my grandparents and is something that gets peppered into conversation (plotz, mensch, chutzpah, bubbe, goy) versus being something that’s spoken as a whole language, though there are those who do exactly that. That Francis’s usage is peppered in implies that he, too, learned it from prior generations, but it’s more likely that it was his native tongue and it’s now been incorporated with the English he’s learned over decades. When added to the self-imposed isolation, this suggests that Francis is not so much eager to remove himself entirely from humanity nor is he willing to let go of where he came from. This detail work by Segan as the writer helps inform a great deal of who Francis is to the audience, an action to demonstrate for the audience more about Francis’s psychology without wasting time on exposition. Especially as we learn bits and pieces about Francis’s journey from child to adult to vampire to now, understanding Francis and how he sees himself as a perpetually ageless monster (not human) matters and his struggle to maintain some form of his Jewish identity, something which he shouldn’t have to hide any more than his personage, feels double-weighted. Then again, Segan also has Francis exist in a world with conservative radio grifters, conspiracy theorists, and other stand-ins for the morally disreputable which, intentionally or not, imply that Francis’s occasional feast isn’t as bad as others are for the world.
One cannot discuss Blood Relatives without bringing up Segan’s primary scene partner, Victoria Moroles (Plan B). She absolutely holds her own in her scenework with Segan, keeping an otherwise elevated situation surprisingly grounded. Moroles never pushes Jane into a stereotypical teenage angst domain, allowing for the character to respond to the extraordinary reasonably without thrusting the tone of the film into after school special territory. Considering that the arc for Jane is to find her father, learn who she is, and then figure out what’s next amid Francis’s arc of reengaging with humanity while figuring out who he is as a solitary individual in a communal situation, no one would admonish Moroles for playing Jane a little larger, a little more dramatic, but, by being a tad more grounded within the situation, Moroles is afforded several opportunities to bring levity among the weirdness that wouldn’t work otherwise. Not that Blood Relatives needs to be the first in a series, but the on-screen chemistry between Moroles and Segan is there and seeing them together again (in a sequel or not) would be good fun.
Where the film may lose part of its audience is that Jane is mostly baked before meeting Francis, her journey to find him being more about understanding a part of herself that she couldn’t discover from her mother. She doesn’t require training as a vampire (though some would help) and mostly understands what her life looks like as a half-vampire who’s the daughter of a full-vampire. That Blood Relatives really is about Francis experiencing an earthquake of a shift in his nomadic, reclusive lifestyle and coming to terms with it may cause audiences to struggle between their expectations and what the film is. As a father of two, however, once I came to understand what Segan’s exploring here, I was able to properly sink my teeth in and appreciate it. There’s a richness that flows through this genre picture because it taps into an idea that many are left feeling ashamed for experiencing: being a parent is not for everyone and it doesn’t always come easily. It comes a little harder when you’ve lost all you know to an enemy (real or metaphorical) and have been transformed into the very monster your enemy believes you to be as a result. I can’t reconcile with that last part (thankfully), but I can with the rest. Given a chance, perhaps you will, too.
Available on Shudder November 22nd, 2022.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.