WHEW, I’m about a year late to the party on this one!
Directed by Ann Marie Pace, Growing Fangs is a 19-minute short film released in 2021 as part of the Launchpad releases, a series of live-action shorts from new directors of minority backgrounds on Disney+. The next series of shorts is expected in 2023 - and with how solid the 2021 set is, I’m definitely looking forward to it.
I stumbled upon greatness after a grinding search for something fun and gay. Mexican-American Val Garcia (Keyla Monterroso) is a half-vampire/half-human high schooler who’s been hiding her human side from the monsters and her monster side from the humans, including her BFF Jimmy (Gilberto Ortiz). Val has a crush on the star of the girl’s basketball team, Elsie Fang (Grace Song), and she feels like the misfit of her family - the only one feeling torn between two identities.
After hurling up some Gator-bleed (which humans can’t drink) that she chugged in front of the basketball team to save face, she ends up in the Nurse Sherri’s (Zainab Johnson) office where her true identity is discovered by the kind, witchy nurse. Sherri tells Val that she herself is a Muslim and a witch - insinuating that Val is not “half” anything, but a vampire and a human. She’s two wholes, not a disaster. It was a very sweet moment, definitely making it the best of this Launchpad season.
Many cute and clever touches made this a stellar piece. To emphasize that Val is half-human even before it’s explicitly stated, it’s shown that Val has a partial reflection in a mirror. This is also how Elsie finds out Val isn’t a purebred vampire later on - it definitely must be extra pressure to avoid any reflections of yourself so you’re not found out and kicked out of school.
To cross over into the monster world to go to school, Val has to crawl through a tiny dog house in the backyard. I loved the way they filmed it - the grainy, glowy vibes of this short gave it extra personality. What a color palette. There’s also no unnecessary exposition like explaining what vampires are or the logistics of her transferring school. Pace drops us right in the middle of the story, and we immediately get the sense that this character has been actively existing and didn’t just start for our sake. It’s more engaging that way; it doesn’t tell me what I’m supposed to know. I get to suss it out and make judgments for myself.
Her bestie Jimmy, an honest, supportive dude who just rolls with the punches, believes the doghouse means the Garcias got a new dog. He ends up getting pulled into the monster world after reaching inside to try and pet it. A lot of Val’s personal conflict is based on her mom saying she can’t tell Jimmy about her vampire identity. She feels isolated and lonely. Jimmy was her only friend at her old school, but here she has no one.
Val clearly doesn’t have full control over her vampirism. There are multiple times where she accidentally floats and has to get pulled back down, or she just drops and thuds on the ground. Another interesting tidbit was breaking the third wall Deadpool style. Obviously not in such an R-rated way, but I think it was incredibly successful. It didn’t feel like a copout for bad writing when she addresses the camera.
She told additional anecdotes and comments that included the viewer in the storyline. The flossing scene really opened my eyes to Val’s personality and set the endearingly awkward tone - “I know what you’re thinking - what kind of teenager flosses?”
I could absolutely see this being made into a longer series or even a movie. If you’ve never seen What We Do In The Shadows, this could be considered a much, much more PG version with equal the fun. I’ve never seen Monster High, but I think the coming-of-age rendition of this concept - and GAYNESS - makes it something brand new. Val is a compelling protagonist who clearly knows what she wants but has no clue how to get there. Her family is hilarious, her friends are supportive and funny - the whole shebang.
Launchpad prompted these newcomer directors to explore uplifting themes surrounding family, culture, and experience. This concept absolutely hits those points, and on top of that, it felt way longer than 19 minutes (in a good way). I can’t believe how much they managed to cram in without it feeling like it was crammed at all. Masterful pacing.
I really hope to see more from Ann Marie Pace - if she can write and direct like this on such a small scale, she’s definitely got a vision for bigger pieces. I’m obsessed with this short and I’m begging for more.
Growing Fangs is streaming on Disney+.