Noah Segan, in his feature directorial debut, conjures a very particular image of the vampire in the opening minutes of Blood Relatives. He drives into frame in a cool American muscle car, slips out of the driver’s seat in a cool leather jacket, and coolly handles an encounter with a potential victim. It’s a set of attributes that’s instantly recognizable to anyone with even a passing knowledge of vampire media, and if Blood Relatives stopped there, it might be just another link in a very long chain of the same trope.
But of course, Blood Relatives is about much more than a single specific image of a pop culture vampire, and what happens next allows Segan to break down, dissect and question that image by giving his vampire a family, something that deliberately and memorably clashes with the façade he’s so carefully curated. With this deconstruction firmly in place almost from the beginning, and through wonderful central performances by Victoria Moroles and Segan himself, Blood Relatives isn’t just a very good first feature, but a deeply endearing horror-comedy that’s one of the best genre films of 2022.
Francis (Segan) is a European Jew who became a vampire decades ago and now roams the American landscape largely undetected, sleeping in his car and feeding when he needs to while generally avoiding any sense of attachment. But attachment is looking for him, and it finds him when Jane (Moroles) hunts him down at a nondescript, crummy motel. It turns out a one-night stand 15 years earlier left Francis with a daughter he never knew about, and now Jane has opted to seek out her father and confront him about certain strange abilities she can’t quite explain. Francis is, of course, reluctant to engage with her, but the more he pushes back against Jane’s emergence in his life, the more he sees himself in the young vampire hybrid. As the two embark on a cross-country road trip, and their unlikely bond deepens, the older vampire has to decide if it might be worth it to give up his wandering ways at last.
If this is all giving you Paper Moon meets Near Dark vibes, you’re definitely not alone, and Segan is a keen enough student of film and filmmaking to immediately recognize the familiar elements with which he’s structured Blood Relatives. It is, of course, what you do with those elements that counts, and it’s there that the film begins to take on a singular vibrancy. Segan’s script is a richly textured storyscape which layers environment, character and horror together to build something new from pieces we’re used to seeing.
Francis’ Jewish heritage plays a major role in his often colorful dialogue choices and in the way he views the world as a cruel, inhospitable place in which survival takes precedence over everything else. And the world of modern-day America, with its right-wing radio and suspicious people, isn’t necessarily doing anything to disprove that worldview. In that way, Segan casts his lead as the ultimate survivor, a creature willing to drive as far as his car will take him and eat everyday Americans if it means he just gets to keep going.
Of course, that raises the question of what end Francis has in mind, if he has one in mind at all, which is where Jane, and Moroles, come in. Segan is great as Francis, blending the vulnerable interior with the tough exterior—playing the dry comedy with ease—but Blood Relatives becomes complete when Moroles steps in to shoulder half of it. Her performance is, like Segan’s, measured and informed by a certain acerbic wit to go with the sharpness of her fangs, and when the two of them get together, a magical third thing happens. They feel like they belong together, two outsiders in a world that’s chewed both of them up and spit them back out, and it’s a feeling that can’t be manufactured even by the best casting director.
That sense of magic transfers to the film’s visuals, where Segan and cinematographer Andrew Baird create an America immersed in long shadows and even longer drives into the night. The us-against-the-world feeling that comes through Francis and Jane is echoed by the look of the film, which sends the two vampires through a sparse, character-filled section of the American Plains states with style and lots of texture. And as with the design of Francis as a character, the design of the film’s look is meant to give us a clue that we’re watching something get picked apart before our eyes.
How that happens, and what comes next, is territory that the film itself will have to show you, but even in its earliest scenes there’s a sense that Blood Relatives is after something much more than a standard outsider comedy with horror elements. There’s real pathos, real heart, in Segan’s tale of two lost people finding each other, even beyond the setup’s basic emotional hook and the dramedy chops of its leads. That makes Blood Relatives a journey that’s well worth taking.
Director: Noah Segan
Writer: Noah Segan
Starring: Noah Segan, Victoria Moroles
Release Date: November 22, 2022 (Shudder)
Matthew Jackson is a pop culture writer and nerd-for-hire who’s been writing about entertainment for more than a decade. His writing about movies, TV, comics, and more regularly appears at SYFY WIRE, Looper, Mental Floss, Decider, BookPage, and other outlets. He lives in Austin, Texas, and when he’s not writing he’s usually counting the days until Christmas.