Living Among Us
Among the vast myriad of monsters that have inhabited the stories, mythologies and folk tales humanity has devised, few are as robust as the vampire. These creatures that survive in the darkness of night by draining the life’s blood from their hapless prey. In their most primitive manifestation they are depicted as primitive, animalistic creatures, as deformed of body as they are evil in intent. Over the last decade or so, they have been steadily transformed into something far more appealing to a wider audience. For a long time, there has been a highly sexual component to the baseline vampiric persona. Even as far back as the iconic 1931 Universal Studio’ ‘Dracula’ Bela Lugosi exuded a arura of sensuality and control. The HBO series ‘True Blood’ juxtaposed horror, science fiction and gothic romance into an imaginative series that revolutionized the vampire archetype. The primary aspect of the show’s premise was vampires ‘coming out of the coffin’ definitively revealing their existence to the mortal world. This provided the means to utilize vampires as far more that a supernatural predator expanding their narrative function to include a means to explore humanity in all our layers of complexity. This also shifted the genre emphasis from pure horror to encompass science fiction. Following in that newly blazed cinematic path, we come to the film currently under consideration, ‘Living Among Us’, a novel approach to some of the themes explored so ingeniously on HBO. Understandably, the most obvious difference is the format. The television series had seven seasons to carefully simmer the character development and craft the narrative. Here, there is a scant 87 minutes t relate a tale of mystery and social inequalities. Considering these obstacles, the filmmaker, Brian A. Metcalf, deported himself admirably. He has considerable experience in the various roles required for bring such a project to fruition, direction, screenwriter, production and even a dozen instances supervising the special effects. I have always found that auteurs that gained experience in their chosen craft are generally substantially more imaginative thran talents nurtured in the hot house of film school.
I am typically not a fan of found footage stylings. All too often this photographic methodology is the fallback of filmmakers in need of some means to com across as different. Of course, there are notable exception where artist of considerable ability is able to remain innovative in the form, but, they are increasingly rare. Mt. Metcalf infuses this means of imagery in a matrix of expertly blended elements. Underscoring the story’s thematic content, the fundamental nature of the movie is within the context of sensationalistic news that has dominate our culture. In our society purveyors of puerile, tabloid like TMZ, have been cited with the gravitas closer to established journalistic sources. This allows the audience to accept the fantasy-based premise to be presented, and subsequently accepted. This is of importance considering the necessity of infusing traditional vampire mythos into a modern setting. As mentioned, there is only a brief portion of the running time available for explosion, so plot devises and stylistic choices as demonstrated here made for a very efficient means to pull the viewer in and capture their attention.
Immediately after the announcement confirming the existence of vampires, the news media clamored for access to probe the consequences of this paradigm altering news. One news outlet managed to arrange for three investigators to prepare a documentary exploring the question on billions of minds, how with the two species coexist? After all, for untold centuries humanity has been little more than prey for vampires, the much-preferred source of nourishment. From their perspective it is as if cattle suddenly lived besides us on a similar social standing. The team selected to obtain the facts included Mike (Thomas Ian Nicholas), his assistant Carrie (Jordan Hinson) and Benny (Hunter Gomez), the cameraman on his first assignment of ant=y significance. In contrast Mike is the epitome of every world-weary reporter ever used in a movie. Unkempt and disheveled not out of carelessness but years of being inconspicuous. He carries himself like a man accustomed to greater respect than currently afforded to him now that his source of income is a tabloid. Ostensibly, the focus of the documentary is to highlight the similarities between humans and vampires. The method to achieve this is to have the crew be embedded in a typical vampire family. In this instance the members of the family are, no pun intended, blood relatives, defining roles of father, mother and child is the traditional sense. Long time fans of family friendly science fiction on TV should recognize Ms. Hinson, for her role as Zoe Carter of ‘Eureka’.
The investigators are introduced to the breathing impaired family, patriarch Samuel (John Heard), his wife, Elleanor (Esmé Bianco) and their two ‘children’, Blake (Andrew Keegan) and Selvin (Chad Todhunter). There is a running joke that all too frequently teenagers are portrayed by actors obviously substantially older than their character. In these instances, the seemingly mis-matched ages work considering the vampires are potentially extremely old. The discrepancies are used effectively through the affectations of the sons. Both are extroverted sociopaths reminiscent of the fifties street tough punk inhabiting most crime thrillers of the period. Once the nuclear family is established the extended members are introduced. Samuel (William Sadler), the Sectional Leader of the Vampire Awareness campaign, appears flanked by the requisite femme fatales cinematically descended from the vampire trope of Dracula’s wives. This was one of the last works for Mr. Heard before his recent passing. Ms. Bianco is a featured performer in one of the most popular shows to ever rise from HBO, ‘Game of Thrones’. This is a cast substantially higher ranked than found in most movies employing the found footage video format.
The film returns to one of the most crucial function of science fiction and more recently horror, social commentary. A proven method off exploring the foibles of our species through a surrogate. Sci-fi traditionally turns to robots and android into stand-ins for people permitting a degree of perspective. Horror goes with its strengths, monsters, to examine human motivations. Vampires are ideal as representatives for the id, the pleasure driven portion of our psyches. This is juxtaposed against the growing influence of spurious sources of information such as ‘entertainment news and social media. Mike represents the portion of this contingent that is making some effort to infuse sensationalized stories with a modicum of journalistic methodology. In contrast, Benny, considers himself as part of a new breed, the videographer. His raison d'etre is to document everything as proof of reality. Both men are accustomed to plying their trades within the context of the mundane world. The imagined their innate insight and acumen could cope with anything they would encounter. Unfortunately, they were woefully unprepared for the true agenda of their subjects. As their time together continued, the modern vampire became less distinguishable from the ancient folk tale. With a premise that cuts so closely to the reality shared by much of the potential audience, it is crucial to build the story upon an unshakable foundation the viewers can relate to, offsetting the elements of pure fantasy. In this intriguing example of the cinematic arts it is provided by three journeyman actors serving as the solid pillars of the story, Mr. Heard, Mr. Sadler, and as the gruff station manager, Aaron, Sadler. Their collective decades as sought-after character actors has imbued them with a firm understanding of the human condition making their respective contributions to the story an integral part of its telling.Ultimately this darkly humorous tale is captivating, drawing the audience in as surely as if enthralled by this alpha predator.