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There are no cool vampires in “Blood Relatives,” a good-natured horror comedy about Francis, a leather-jacket-wearing bloodsucker who reunites with his estranged, half-human teenage daughter.
Character actor turned writer/director Noah Segan introduces us to Francis (also Segan) by showing us his vintage muscle car, a Barracuda, as it pulls into Texas and immediately breaks down. “Oy vey,” Francis says. He may be a predator, but Francis is also an outsider, a Jew, and now, a parent. There’s more Yiddish scattered throughout “Blood Relatives,” and it’s about as schticky and uncool as you might expect. Thankfully, Francis’ a-little-too-nice guy vibe also suits Segan, a staple of Rian Johnson’s movies since “Brick.”
Francis may be the lead protagonist in “Blood Relatives,” his debut feature as a director, but he’s not the real star. That would be Victoria Moroles, who plays Jane, Francis’ moody and inquisitive daughter. Most of “Blood Relatives” concerns Jane’s frustrated attempts at bonding with and being accepted by her father. It’s exciting to see Segan not only develop Moroles’ character but also frequently let her steal scenes from him. That’s probably the most surprising thing about Segan’s movie: it’s a two-hander that leans more heavily on its co-lead than its multihyphenate star.
Segan deliberately refuses to play to his strengths as Francis, a neurotic character whose predatory mystique is constantly challenged and second-guessed by secondary characters. Because optics matter, as one character puts it, whether we like it or not, and blasting Wagner’s “Gotterdamerung” in your flashy car tends to draw attention, even at the edge of town.
In this tongue-in-cheek way, Segan gets some mileage out of Francis’ obvious behavior by playing with our generic expectations. So Francis asks for permission before entering any building, because he’s a vampire. He also tries to be polite whenever addressing various human characters, because he’s a nice Jewish boy, no matter how many centuries old.
Jane doesn’t care about any of that. She cuts Francis down to size with a quick, true-crime-podcast-ready spiel about how he met her late mother. Then Jane inserts herself into Francis’ life, despite his whiny protests. “Sorry if this doesn’t fit your narrative,” she shrugs. Moroles is very good with that particular combination of snappy pouting and matter-of-fact sass.
Segan also did well to play to his co-lead’s strengths, which carries “Blood Relatives” during its emotionally muted scenes. Francis drives himself and his daughter around, and she repeatedly proves that she doesn’t need him in the ways that he thinks she does. Because his loaded expectations are usually based on a total lack of experience, as a parent and a social creature, so Francis often plays to a type that he only selectively fits.
Segan’s reactive instincts seem to be responsible for the most satisfying and frustrating parts of “Blood Relatives.” He’s very deferential to Moroles and her character, sometimes to the point where it seems like he’s more invested in proving a point—Jane’s strong enough to be truly independent!—than in telling a story. A few scenes start and stop with over-extended conceptual gags and dialogue, which inadvertently puts too much dramatic stress on the ensemble cast’s otherwise strong performances. It’s also hard not to hear a fearful young artist’s self-conscious, but accurate self-diagnosis when Francis tells Jane that she has a bright future “writing schtick.” This is also funny, especially coming from a vampire whose use of Yiddish words like “fakakte” and “meshugenner” sound as authentic as Segan’s leather jacket looks. "You look like you're dressed like the Fonz for Halloween, every day,” Jane says. There’s a line for everything in “Blood Relatives,” for better and worse.
That said, Moroles’ performance, combined with Segan’s patient direction and generous pacing, does take “Blood Relatives” a fair way. Not all of the jokes land, but their execution is usually good enough thanks to Segan’s attention to dialogue and infectious love of chintzy Americana.
Segan also does a great job of highlighting the unglamorous features of various in-between spaces, from the pre-packaged pastries at the Days for Nite motel’s reception desk to the cluttered interior of a pawnshop run by multi-hyphenate Austin comedian/actor/cartoonist John Gholson. “Blood Relatives” isn’t always a great comedy about vampires, or fathers and daughters, but it is a charming road movie.
Then there’s the whole Jewish thing. It’s nice to see a “Jewish movie”—“Oy gevalt!”—that somehow doesn’t rehash generational trauma through the schmutz-caked lens of bad ethnic humor. And if “Blood Relatives” is a Jewish movie, that’s mainly because Segan appears genuinely, exhaustingly concerned with giving credit and consideration to everyone but himself. Segan should probably be more selfish next time he directs himself. This time, Segan’s efforts to be both sensitive and knowing are commendable, even if the rest of the movie sometimes isn’t.
On Shudder today.