Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Review: Living Among Us

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet

Living Among Us
Written and directed by Brian A. Metcalf
Red Compass Media / Vision Films
87 minutes, 2018

Wow, a combination of ancient vampire lore and the more modern found footage format, mixed with the sensationalistic news feeding frenzy combine into a perfect storm of culture clashes that cover both the temporal (centuries) and spacial (a big house).

A trio of shock video journalists (two seasoned, one newbie) who model themselves more after sensationalism than, say, CNN, have an assignment to do a story about a clan ofvampires, that old tradition that until now has kept in the cover of literal darkness, but is now claiming their own rights to exist in the open as persecuted citizens of the social contract.

One of the old sayings about vampires that I used to hear a lot (but can’t remember where, oddly enough) is that the Vampire’s strongest power is the lack of people believing in them. This film wisely takes that and turns it on its head, on the level of Blade (1998) and the whole “people are food” mentality.

I remember seeing Man Bites Dog (1992), a Belgian film about a news crew following a serial killer, and over time becoming not only complicit, but eventually actually joining in on the action (e.g., helping in the disposing of bodies). As a student of media theory, this is an interesting concept that is partially in play here as some of our subject vamps start acting out. However, it is only the start of the uptick of intensity and interest to the viewer. This release mixes this premise a bit with an recent and unfairly obscure Irish film called Do You Recognise Me? (2017; my review HERE),  in which a similar film crew is invited into a mysterious group for nefarious reasons.

Our protagonists are on-screen unkempt reporter Mike (Thomas Ian Nicholas), his assistant Carrie (Jordan Hinson) and the new kid on the block with the ever running camera, Benny (Hunter Gomez). He’s the odd stick  as the enthusiastic teammate in a comfortable team. Basically, Benny is here in the story to (a) film everything, whether it’s known to those he is capturing  or on the down-low (while sticking to many of the vampire traditional strengths and weaknesses, sometimes in spectacular fashion, they can be filmed and seen in mirrors), and (b) to be told by Mike to “turn that damn camera off” multiple times; wait, aren’t they lower-end journalists? I would think he would insist on the camera staying on, but what do I know.

The focus of their documentary is a “family” (no real – er – blood relations) of neck biters, led by patriarch/leader Samuel (John Heard in one of his last roles as he died in 2017, and this film is rightfully dedicated to his memory; he was the dad in the Home Alone franchise). The matriarch is Elleanor (Esmé Bianco, who many will recognize as Ros from “Game of Thrones”). The other two are the “teens” (well, they’re actually older, including the actors being closer to 40 than 30): the outgoing and sociopathic “bad boy” Blake (Andrew Keegan) who is a cross between the ‘50s juvenile delinquent and Tony Manero, and the creepy and mostly silent Selvin (Chad Todhunter). They are the equivalent of the Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) character in Blade who are tired of being in the social background. Later coming to the party is Samuel (William Sadler), the Sectional Leader of the Vampire Awareness campaign, and his companions who are the equivalent of Dracula’s trio of “wives.”

With the understanding that some of these vampires are hundreds of years old, it seems like the male characters are either Mike Pence-like prudish and older or nutsoid and hyper younger men (physically), and only beautiful women. Are there no elderly or fat women (or men) vampires? Just a curiosity query.

Now how does this fare as far as a found footage feature goes? Well, there are some of the clichés such as running around the dark by the camera lights and the camera's annoying and unrealistic visual noise, but at least the batteries are explained. That being said, despite the overuse of this genre, they add enough interesting aspects, such as vampires, a couple of nice jump scares, and some decent use of the footage in the third act that actually gives it a pretty good turn. Thank you, Mr. Metcalf.

Considering the history of this cast, it should come as no surprise that the acting is above par. Many of the players have worked together before on televisions shows such as Party of Five, so the give-and-take feels natural. Heard seems a bit stiff physically even though his acting is smooth, but considering that he was about to have back surgery, that’s no surprise, and I give solid respect. British born Bianco also does well in an almost gliding way as she shimmers through her scenes with a touch of the class of the gentry, and disdain for the common reporters, while trying to put up a façade of pleasantry. 

Keegan and Todhunter play weird and wild effectively, and Nicholas does well going from arrogant to uncomfortable to…well, so on. Gomez doesn’t really get to so as much, especially since we only see him briefly as he is usually behind the camera (though we do get to hear his voice).

As far as the gore and nudity, it’s held in somewhat in check so while there is not a lot of it – more of the former than the latter, though – it’s effective because it’s not expected. The last act, as should be, is more intense; while anyone who has seen their fair share of found footage flicks can kind of guess where it’s all going to end up, the route there is a fun ride so don’t let that hinder your decision to watch. And be sure to read the scrawl under the newscaster (a cameo by the director) at the end. Made me smile.

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