Vampires are one of those eternal staples of horror, endlessly able to be reinterpreted to fit any number of metaphorical molds a storyteller might choose. Yet in spite of their ageless transience, rarely do vampires serve as a direct analog for loneliness, with their eternal existence serving as a sort of purgatory that isolates them from all people, including other vampires. This intriguing twist is the underlying theme of actor Noah Segan’s feature directorial debut Blood Relatives, using the mythos of vampirism as a meditation on the value of family, albeit with a few bumps along the road to get there.
Jewish vampire Francis (Segan, a scene-stealer in Rian Johnson’s films since Brick) has spent the last century in isolation, driving around the American Midwest, maintaining his muscle car, and sucking the blood from any asshole deserving of a bite. This lonesome existence continues uninterrupted until a 15-year-old girl tracks him down, seemingly knowing exactly who and what he is. Jane (Victoria Moroles) is Francis’ daughter, born of a sexual encounter with a human woman and resulting in offspring that can walk in the sunlight but still craves his sanguine diet. Now that her mother is dead, Jane contacts Francis in the hope of a reunion as each other’s last remaining family. Francis is reluctant to adopt the responsibility of his mortal offspring, but agrees to shepherd her to the home of Jane’s distant cousin, where he expects to drop her off.
Tonally, Segan aims for a distinct mix of deadpan absurdism and solemn meditation, which works well in isolated scenes but less so in conjunction with the whole of the story. It’s strange for Francis and Jane’s meeting to unfold quietly and with muted emotion, only for a confrontation to erupt with a motel manager (Akasha Villalobos) that relies on slapstick timing and deadpan delivery. The film is often both funny and affecting, but not always in ways that complement one other, and the gulf only widens when scenes like a visit to a psychiatric hospital-committed familiar (hammily played by Josh Ruben) occupy the same space as meditative monologues on the importance of families as a last defense against losing our identities.
Much more cohesive is Blood Relatives’ sense of mythology, depicting Francis’ existence as transient to the point of personal oblivion. Occasional Yiddish phrases and a bleak sense of humor betray a world-weariness born from an eternity bereft of personal connection, and the rural wastelands and weigh stations where he repairs his ancient vehicle make a fitting purgatory for a man with no companions, no home, and little hope. Segan, a skilled comic performer, lends a sadness to his portrayal as Francis that showcases his underappreciated versatility as an actor, even if he does intermittently fall back on those wry, humorous strengths.
It’s unfortunate, then, that Segan’s screenplay runs out of gas before the sub-90-minute story ends. Francis and Jane’s most compelling conflicts—their essential communion as disparate loners in need of companionship—are resolved in less than an hour, and the remainder of the film unfolds like a prolonged epilogue that loses momentum when it abandons the perpetual road-trip premise. This feels at least in part like an intentional choice, demonstrating how Francis re-acclimates to society via his love for his daughter, but the pacing slows to a crawl, adding little thematic heft or memorable humor.
Thankfully, Blood Relatives otherwise has enough going for it that this indulgent stumble doesn’t hamper its watchability. Segan manages to tell a compelling story about two people finding family in a vacuum, employing comedic jolts to maintain intrigue even when the importance of the plot becomes secondary. Like the cobbled-together parts of an aging engine, or the seemingly incompatible members of a chosen family, Blood Relatives holds together with just enough passion and love that its sturdy engine takes audiences for an enjoyable if not always memorable ride.