The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster - New Release Review
Director: Bomani J. Story
Starring: Laya DeLeon Hayes, Chad L. Coleman, Denzel Whitaker, Amani Summer
Written by: Bomani J. Story
Produced by: Jack Davis, Bomani J. Story, Darren Brandi
Cinematography by: Daphne Qin Wu
Original Score by: Nima Fakhrara
After the brutal murder of her brother, a young girl embarks on a dangerous journey to bring him back to life.
Throughout the history of cinema Mary Shelley's novel 'Frankenstein' has inspired a multitude of films that have either loosely or strictly adapted the literary classic. From the silent era, to the Universal monster movies of the 30's to Hammer Studios and beyond, the story of the modern day Prometheus has been intrinsically linked to the horror genre.
The latest take on the story comes in the form of Bomani J. Story's 'The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster'. It transports the action from eighteenth century Europe to a black community in modern day America. The film follows a brilliant young black girl called Vicaria (Laya DeLeon Hayes) who tries to bring her dead brother Chris back to life through her scientific experiments after he is gunned down in a gang related shooting.
The film opens with a beautiful yet powerful montage outlining the tragic death of Vicaria's mother and brother in separate shootings and their aftermath, giving us a personal insight into a wider issue within her community and similar communities throughout America. Over these softly lit shots she narrates, "Death is the disease that broke my family". This fantastic piece of visual storytelling from Bomani J. Story (making his feature debut as a director) perfectly sets up the mood and tone for the entire film.
On paper the premise of a teenager bringing her brother back from the dead sounds completely absurd but the world Story creates in this one neighbourhood makes you buy into it without question. It is all the more compelling given how he handles the material in a serious manner rather than something more arch or comical like 'Re-Animator'. In one of the opening scenes where Vicaria walks through her neighbourhood in a nicely panned shot we understand everything we need to know about the characters that inhabit the neighbourhood and their dynamics within it, grounding the film and giving it a sense of reality which allows you to believe what is happening whenever the fantastical elements are introduced.
This is aided by some fantastic performances across the board. As Vicaria (also known as "the mad scientist" to the kids in the neighbourhood because of her brilliant mind) DeLeon Hayes is nothing short of terrific. She exudes so much confidence and charisma throughout the film but there is still anguish from all the pain she has gone through. This blinds her from the implication of her actions as well intentioned as they are and the inner conflict of her character is measured wonderfully in the latter half of the film. It is the kind of performance that makes her an actor to keep an eye out for in the future.
The supporting cast are just as impressive in their respective roles. Chad L. Coleman plays Vicaria's father Donald, a man who has turned to drugs to cope with the deaths in his family. Behind his physically imposing appearance there is a gentle and vulnerable side to his character that seeps out in the face of everything he has gone through. Denzel Whitaker's turn as local gang leader Kango is almost the opposite of this. He tries to build himself up to be threatening but we see right through him to his facade to see him for what he is, a bully. One of the biggest standouts in the cast is Amani Summer as Vicaria's young neighbour Jada. In the third act of the film she exhibits a sense of childlike innocence that inhibits her from comprehending the impact of the horrors in such a natural way that it is heartbreaking to watch, which is a rare trait for actors of her age to have.
The brilliance from everything you see on screen stems from Story's excellent script. He takes the basic framework and ideas of Shelley's novel and recontextualises them in a way that weaves in modern socio-political issues facing black communities so seamlessly. An example of this is how the script handles the theme of dehumanisation. Chris is transformed into a creature, someone who is feared and misunderstood until he believes the monstrous label others place on him which bears similarities to racial profiling and stereotypes. The manner in which Story tackles the ideas of gang violence and police brutality are some of the scarier aspects of the film. An example of this (and probably the most frightening scene in the film) is the scene where Vicaria and her father are having dinner at a neighbour's house. Their meal is interrupted by the police (who are presented as an unseen entity in this moment) who aggressively thump on the door in search of a killer. It is so nerve jangling leaving you on edge and fearing for the character's safety.
'The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster' is one of the most impressive debuts for any filmmaker in the genre this year. Story breathes new life into the classic tale as the modern spin works incredibly well at being told through a black lens. Not only is it scary at times, it carries an emotional weight that keeps you invested throughout. Following in the footsteps of the likes of Jordan Peele, Story is a black filmmaker in the genre whose work I will continue to follow with great interest.
- Joseph McElroy
'The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster' is available to stream exclusively on Shudder from September 22nd