Indie Film Review: Vampire Mockumentary “Living Among Us” (2018)
Living Among Us (2018) is the second feature-length horror movie by indie writer/director/producer Brian A. Metcalf (The Lost Tree, 2016). It’s a competent production. The film boasts a cast that includes Esmé Bianco (Game of Thrones, 2011-3), James Russo (Donnie Brasco, 1997), William Sadler (The Shawshank Redemption, 1994), and the late John Heard (Home Alone, 1990). Yet, its story is familiar and weak, as is its POV video aesthetic. Its production design and acting also could have been better, even given the limitations of its low budget. The film’s negative aspects outweigh the positives, especially for the seasoned horror fan.
The main character is Mike (Thomas Ian Nicholas), an egotistical young documentary filmmaker. He has exposed the world’s vampires’ arrangement with blood banks to supply them with human blood. In response, the vampires “come out” to the human population as peaceful victims of the virus that transformed them. As a result, Mike gets the opportunity to take his cameras inside the home of a local “family” of vampires led by Andrew (Heard). However, an early intertitle tells the viewer that Mike and his crew “gave their lives” to get their footage. This revelation belies the vampires’ claim that they have “evolved” beyond killing humans. It also spoils most of the story, especially the plot twist at the film’s end.
The film’s general concept — the vampire “mockumentary” — works much better in the obvious comparison, 2014’s What We Do in the Shadows (dir. Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi). Here, comedy is the achieved goal, but convincing horror is also a result. Living Among Us plays its story straight. Its script is weak, leading to an occasional lack of verisimilitude. At other times, the effect is unintentionally campy. But there is not enough naive camp to evoke a “so-bad-it’s-good” feel for the audience. This is NOT another Plan 9 from Outer Space, Troll 2, or Tommy Wiseau production (thank Cthulhu). Still, most of the story turns on tired vampire cliches involving sunlight, crosses, stakes, and holy water.
Another downside of the film is its HD video documentary aesthetic. It is employed through a story premise that a young and inexperienced camera operator, Benny (Hunter Gomez), shoots the “found footage.” Still, all the cinematography does not have to suffer from his rookie limitations, which include problems with framing, angles, and lighting. On the editing side, there are too many transitions made via a static-filled jump cut, as if the camera is intermittently malfunctioning. This happens in real life, but it shouldn’t be the go-to transition in a feature-length movie. This is especially the case given that the plot involves the release of the footage by a television station, which would edit it professionally.
The movie’s production design is also a problem. It suffers from the particular approach to low-budget indie filmmaking taken here. Other directors have done “more with less,” but not so in this case. Aside from the mock cable and broadcast news segments, there are two primary locations: the offices of a TV station and a large suburban house. Mise-en-scène (staging) in both places is unimaginative, except for late sequences shot in a dark, underground vampire lair supposedly in the basement of the house. The mock news segments are unconvincing, as their graphics are unsophisticated and the actors playing the TV journalists are young and awkward.
In fact, the acting is lackluster in general, with a few notable exceptions. Heard appears to be “phoning in” his lines, as the cliché goes. Despite considerable efforts, Sadler and Bianco struggle to animate their two-dimensional characters. Gomez’s voice-overs from behind the camera (and the brief occasions in which he turns the lens on himself) are hammy and amateurish.
So what’s right in this film? Certain special effects are clever, although they are not ground-breaking. Nicholas nails the arrogance of certain young directors. Andrew Keegan and Chad Todhunter are good as Blake and Selvin, two young vampires who rebel against their elders’ orders to “evolve” beyond traditional bloodthirsty killing.
The author of this review received free access to an advance screener of this film for review purposes. No financial considerations were involved.