The “Welcome to the Blumhouse”A series of horror movies has succeeded in showcasing diverse talent, if they have not been able to connect social themes to scary stories. Another example of this is “Black As Night,”Which joins “Bingo Hell”Amazon Prime now has a second set of Halloween releases.
Maritte Lee Go’s solo feature directorial debut is a sort of female African-American spin on “The Lost Boys,”It chronicles what its heroine does. “The summer I got breasts and fought vampires.” It works well enough as a teen supernatural melodrama, reasonably slick if a tad silly — less well as straight-up horror, let alone as a commentary on race-centric historical and political issues that never feel more than pasted-on here.
Shawna, a 15-year-old Shawna (Asjha Cooper) was born immediately after Hurricane Katrina. That disaster destroyed her family’s former house, as well as the stability of her mother (Kenneisha Thompson). The daughter is now living with her father and brother in a new home. Her drug-addled mom, however, has fled to a desolate housing project where almost everyone is either a buyer or a dealer. It’s a place Shawna dislikes visiting, even more dangerous than she knows — as we glean at the start, when a man collecting recyclables with a shopping cart is set upon by ghouls. They don’t want his cans, but his blood.
She’s enlightened on that front all too soon, however. As she is walking home from a party with her gay friend Pedro (Fabrizio Giudice), she spots another homeless man being attacked and, in trying to help him, gets attacked. A passing car saved her and she returned home with the telltale signs of neck puncture wounds. Pedro laughs at her claim that she was jumped by the next day. “a group of homeless vampires,” but stops laughing once they discover Shawna’s mother has already … well, “turned,”Sunlight exposure can cause skin to burst into flames.
This proves that vampires are real and can be vulnerable as per traditional fictive portrayals. The teen duo armed themselves with garlic, silver and wooden stakes and enlisted the support of Mason Beauchamp, a vampire-literature enthusiast, and Abbie Gayle, a school crush object, to stop the undead plague among the Black poor and marginalized. They realize that the headquarters for this plague is a French Quarter mansion under the command of 800-year-old Keith David, and that there’s also a rival “good”Sammy Nagi Njuguna leads the vampire force.
That’s quite enough intrigue for one movie. Sherman Payne’s screenplay explains it all as culminating long-running rebellions against slavery and other forms of racist oppression, as most recently manifested in New Orleans’ greatly reduced African-American population post-Katrina. Both are different in their ways. “Black” “Bingo Hell”This could include gentrification of established communities.
The animated sequence shows this thought-provoking backstory, which while it looks good on paper, never becomes an integral part of the main plot. Which, in their “30-year-old-looking teenagers traipsing around offing fanged immortals” gist, feels more like lightweight juvenile adventure à la Hardy Boys or Scooby-Doo. Those weightier themes fall well short of effectively shadowing the entire narrative as in Jordan Peele’s horror films, say, or the incarnations of “Candyman.”
It doesn’t come off as perilous, thrilling, or even credible in its fantasy form. It doesn’t help that the movie sports entirely gratuitous “Dear Diary”-style narration from Shawna, who’s forever underlining the obvious by saying things like “Did that really just happen? Was I just bitten by a vampire?”
Cooper and his castmates are still appealing enough. The film is well-paced and has some nice packaging elements. Even if it doesn’t add up to a particularly chilling atmosphere, DP Cybel Martin’s location-shot imagery has a lush color palette nicely amplified by Ryan Martin Dwyer’s production design. “Black As Night”Visually, it is quite easy to get down. It is a shame that the story content was not retained in the mind.