Blood Relatives Review: A Sweet, Slightly Clumsy Vampire Dramedy [Fantastic Fest]

"Blood Relatives" is a movie with a lot of heart. And blood. Lots and lots of blood, because this is the story of a pair of vampires. But it's also a father-daughter bonding flick; a road trip movie; and a surprisingly non-stop delivery system for Yiddish words. Written, directed by, and starring Noah Segan, "Blood Relatives" is clearly a passion project for the actor (who you probably primarily know from his frequent collaborations with Rian Johnson), and as is often the case with passion projects for actors-turned-filmmakers, it's a little clumsy. There are scenes that feel awkwardly long, in dire need of some trimming — a mid-movie sequence shot day-for-night goes on seemingly forever and robs the movie of serious momentum, for instance.

And yet, "Blood Relatives" is so unapologetically warm — especially for a vampire flick — that it's hard not to be charmed by it all. You'll notice the clunky bits that need some fixing. But you'll also likely be taken with the undead drama of it all. Segan is Francis, a guy who looks young but is actually old. Very old. He's a vampire who lived through World War II, and he's not originally from America, as he's prone to throwing out Yiddish words whenever he can (this is a running bit that sometimes works and garners big laughs, and sometimes falls flat; so it goes). 

Francis lives a nomadic lifestyle, driving through the countryside in his 1969 Barracuda Fastback and wearing an outfit that, as one character aptly points out, is akin to someone dressing like the Fonz for Halloween. When the sun comes up, Francis either checks into motels or covers his car in a tarp to hide from the sun. It's not clear if he enjoys this lifestyle, but it's all he has, and it's seemingly all he's known for decades. And then everything changes when teenager Jane (Victoria Moroles) tracks him down and tells him she's his daughter. 

Family matters

Part of the fun of "Blood Relatives" is how Segan plays around with established vampire mythology. Yes, vampires are undead; yes, they drink blood (of humans and sometimes animals, but animals don't taste as good); and yes, they can be killed by sunlight. But Francis also loves to chug bottles of booze — something Count Dracula, with his aversion to spirits, would gag at. And, even though he's technically dead, Francis can also sire a child. Years ago he rolled into a town and got a one-night stand pregnant. Now, that woman is dead, and Jane, her daughter, has arrived to reveal to Francis she's his long-lost child. And because her dad is a vampire, she's a half-vampire herself. She has a thirst for blood, has superhuman strength, and can sprout fangs. But she's also technically alive, ages naturally, and can move about during the day without bursting into flames. 

Because Jane has no one, she wants to stay with Francis. Francis, as you'd imagine, thinks this is a terrible idea. But father and daughter reluctantly hit the road together, and it's not going to be an easy journey. Jane is consistently angry in that sulky teen sort of way, and that's part of the film's problems. While Moroles sells the angst of the character, she's stuck with the type of smarmy, sardonic, rat-a-tat dialogue that never, ever sounds right coming out of the mouth of a kid. Kids don't talk like this — screenwriters do. And as such, I had trouble getting used to Jane as a character. You could argue that her nature is all an act; she's a hurt, lonely kid and she's lashing out and trying to sound wiser beyond her years. But I don't quite buy that, and I don't buy her dialogue. 

But I did buy the conflicts that arise between father and daughter, two characters who are both very alike and very different. And I bought into the way these two lonely people ultimately realize they need each other, because each other is all they've got. There's something charming about the way Francis learns to change in order to raise his daughter. Even though he's already an old man, he's finally being forced to grow up, something that doesn't come easy to anyone — even vampires. However, there are darker, somewhat unspoken things lurking in the background — the idea that eventually, Jane will get older and older while Francis stays the same. That's bleak and disturbing — I was reminded of "Let the Right One In," which had similar tragic vampire/human dynamics — but "Blood Relatives" plays them for laughs. But perhaps that's just the reality of the situation — we find humor in the macabre all the time. We have to laugh, or else we'll cry. "Blood Relatives" gets that, and that's part of what makes the film so affable, even if it does trip over its own Dracula cape from time to time. 

/Film Rating: 6 out of 10