Blood Relatives is now streaming on Shudder.
Noah Segan's feature-length directorial debut Blood Relatives pours on cadaverous cuteness in this indie vampire dramedy about surprise fatherhood responsibilities. Clear budgetary restrictions hinder feeding sequences, which becomes more a feature than a bug as Segan's screenplay reveals itself as a paternal character study. Cameras shy away when fangs are about to puncture flesh, distracted by Robert Allaire's plucky uptempo score or another Yiddish one-liner. Blood Relatives tells an undead tale about family values and compassionate sacrifice on a bargain value, trading shakier technical chops for emphasized storytelling sweetness by the barrel full.
Segan stars as a century-old Yiddish vampire named Francis, a slick leather-jacket rebel without a purpose or pulse. He's modeled after "The Fonz" and drives his beat-up ‘60s Barracuda muscle car down desolate American highways until the sun comes out and he requires shelter. That's until Jane (Victoria Moroles) appears at his motel door and drops a bombshell — she's his 15-year-old half-vampire daughter. Francis doesn't seem keen on becoming a father overnight, but Jane needs someone to show her the vampiric ropes. Maybe there's more to Francis under the jet-black greaser hair, overcompensating automobile, and nonchalant personality in place of vulnerable emotions.
Blood Relatives never pretends to be anything it's not. Segan fixates on performances over anything else, pitting an angsty teenage runaway against an angstier manchild wheelman. Aggression scales within a millimeter's range, stressing coming-of-age comedy over Draculean horror as Francis begrudgingly accepts responsibility as Jane's caretaker, mentor, and father figure. That'd be more of an issue if Segan and Moroles weren't so collaboratively charming, hybridizing yuck-it-up sitcom schmaltz with cursed bloodsucker dilemmas like Punky Brewster meets Near Dark.
Technical merit is a mixed bag as the camera wobbles around lax action sequences since Blood Relatives presumably couldn't muster the means to deliver top-notch effects. Andrew Scott Baird's cinematography wonkily rolls around musty rental floors as Jade struggles with her first victim or immediately bails whenever other films would reveal a gush of blood from bite wounds. There's logic to Segan avoiding practical effects without the proper means and only showing crimson aftermaths. Yet, there's also a lacking captivation given how exposed indie production seams show from odd lighting that doesn't uphold Francis' "I'll explode in sunlight" claims to an overall one-notedness that supports but never evolves or embellishes the core premise.
Then again, Blood Relatives makes the most of its strengths. Segan writes, directs, and acts from a place of zen control — he's the perfect actor to play Francis, presumably by design. His pronounced Yiddish "farkakte" exclamations and general calmness around Jade's outbursts or thirsty lessons are wholesome, much like Moroles’ portrayal of a young adult trumping her elders with maturity. There's tenderness (in words) as Francis and Jade share chunky supermarket ground beef out of a white foam container, Francis abiding by Jade's wishes to steer away from human feasts. Segan's operating within limitations — not flawlessly — but at his best, channels ‘80s road trip comedies built around parent-child teachings that tiptoe through darkness without ever giving into the horror genre's more warped tendencies.