Starring Andrew Keegan, John Heard, Esmé Bianco, William Sadler, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Jordan Hinson, Hunter Gomez, Chad Todhunter
Written by Brian A. Metcalf
Directed by Brian A. Metcalf
Brian A. Metcalf’s Living Among Us is a fun little riff on vampire mythos albeit an incomplete bite. It’s somewhere between Daybreakers and What We Do In The Shadows concerning theme, as the film utilizes found footage to normalize bloodsucking lifestyles – but execution sometimes goes pale in the face. Scenes benefit from characterized night creatures who crave television spotlights, while others couldn’t be more generic in terms of evidence playback hurdles. Note to future filmmakers – the more your characters ask the narrative filmer why they’re still rolling, the more we, your audience, will do the same. Just one of a few reasons Living Among Us whiffs on total immersion.
Introductory B-roll opens on newscaster clips that speak of vampirism as a medical affliction. It turns out that a local documentarian (Mike, played by Thomas Ian Nicholas) uncovered a deal between blood donors and vampires to keep infected bellies fed. New vampires preach domestication and want to be one with their human brothers, which leads Mike to an interview opportunity with a house full of agreeable vampires. He’ll interview them, witness their practices and hopefully turn people to the side of compassion – if that’s the vampire community’s true intention.
It all starts innocently enough upon meeting Metcalf’s “diseased” family. The late John Heard plays Andrew, his household’s venture capitalist leader, with Esmé Bianco as pristine wife Elleanor. There’s Andrew Keegan as playboy son Blake and Chad Todhunter as definitely-not-OK son Selvin. Their house echoes classic piano background notes and glows a charming sophistication, the family all dressed in different styles of black garb (Blake’s leather, Andrew’s buttoned attire). Maybe they’re the all-American family next door who just need to drink imported Croatian blood now and again?
As expected, Mike’s team – including Hunter Gomez as newbie cameraman Benny and Jordan Hinson as Mike’s ex-girlfriend/sound tech Carrie – find themselves a part of some bigger scheme. Footage should capture Andrew’s clan in their newly restrained, assimilated ways, but instead secrets of their savagery begin to leak. Sect Leader Samuel (William Sadler) is the one who sets Mike up with the unprecedented access, as it turns out for a double-sided reason. Granted, no one finds it a bit fishy or suspect that three humans would be asked to stay over and record a vampire family’s every move (except when asleep) – turn those blind eyes now, genre vets.
Highlights on the evidence tape include but are not limited to: Blake’s party-rock attitude about decapitating stoners and keeping up with old world ways, Selvin’s obvious creep factor, a basement rendezvous with reality – Metcalf has fun playing around with vampire norms. Blake, for instance, has adapted to indirect sunlight but still gets “crispy fried” under pure beams. Attitudes between Mike’s subjects vary from posh regality to Edward Cullen on a bender, and it’s somewhat inviting. Curiosity about Earth’s vampire epidemic teases some larger scale thinking that would have been an added bonus to explore, but we’re stuck with Andrew, Eleonore and the rest. Bound to basics.
Living Among Us is rarely about subtlety, starting with the first on-camera interview that Andrew immediately cuts off in a skittish huff. Then he nixes Blake only minutes later, in an obvious attempt to hide unsavory details. It’s never a question that nefarious plans are afoot, which Carrie somehow gets caught in when she’s stricken ill after night one. The more Andrew pulls back the curtain, the more Benny protests and the more Mike falls victim to mistakes of found footage corpses past. Corralled by vampires around every turn, imprisoned by his documentarian mindset and weak attempts to play it cool. Expect shadowy shades of every found footage plot ever faked for exposure – and an anticlimactic run-away-arms-flailing scene featuring Carrie.
I do believe Living Among Us will find an audience because there are certain mechanics that work towards updating vampire storytelling with a modern flair. Camera quality is crisp and somewhat steady, sans finicky spy lenses rigged through buttonholes. That said, character mapping is repetitive and intent is never hidden, which makes for predictability minus the lesbian sister vamps who make out in a pool (for no added clarity). Fun at times, festering at others. Hopefully you’ll be one of the minions who take to their vampire masters as Brian A. Metcalf hopes?
In the end, it’s not some questionable stretch of ADR tuning or masked CGI effects (which surprisingly work in context) that mark Living Among Us for the graveyard. Blake’s roasting forearm passes as a cool vampire magic trick, for example. Instead, it’s this on-screen progression that treats audiences like they’ve never seen found footage before. Explanations are swept under a pile of rugs in favor of characters who ignore red flags like senior year homework assignments. Generic to the core despite intriguing genre flare-ups – but worth your own investigation, nonetheless.
I like the world of Living Among Us and the medical explanations for vampirism, but only with less found footage redundancies. If only there was an air freshener livening up this stuffy casket watch.