Black as Night Movie Review
Written by Stuart D. Monroe
Released by Amazon Studios | Blumhouse
Directed by Maritte Lee Go
Written by Sherman Payne
2021, 87 minutes, Not Rated
Released on October 1st, 2021
Asjha Cooper as Shawna
Fabrizio Guido as Pedro
Mason Beauchamp as Chris
Abbie Gayle as Granya
Keith David as Babineaux
Kenneisha Thompson as Denise
Derek Roberts as Steven
Sammy Nagi Njuguna as Tunde
Tunde Laleye as Yakubu
Arguably the toughest genre to make a mark in? Vampires. They’re the O.G.’s of horror. Pardon the pun, but they’ve been done to undeath. Everyone has a favorite flavor – the classic Gothic monster in the cape, the erotic bloodsuckers of ancient nobility gifted to us by Anne Rice (I’m in this camp), the butt-ugly and rabidly vicious killers in 30 Days of Night, or the daywalking badasses of the Blade series? There are dozens more directions to go in, but I like mine best when there’s some depth to the characters.
Welcome to the Blumhouse’s second offering (having premiered alongside Gigi Saul Guerrero’s Bingo Hell) is Maritte Lee Go’s Black as Night, and these vampires are the disenfranchised and homeless of post-Katrina New Orleans, weaponized against the population of a slum housing complex known as The Ombreux. It’s a premise that’s ripe for social commentary and poignant drama, and Black as Night does a fine (if not slightly superficial) job of delivering in that department.
However, Black as Night is essentially two films in one. The main protagonist is Shawna (Asjha Cooper; There’s Someone Inside Your House), a fifteen-year-old African-American teen who lives with her father, Steven (Derek Roberts; The Punisher), while her mother, Denise (Kenneisha Thompson; A Ghost Story), tries to get clean from drugs. Unfortunately, Denise lives in The Ombreux, and that’s an exceptionally bad place to be down and out while also being full of tasty, warm blood. With the aid of her bestie, Pedro (Fabrizio Guido; World War Z); a vampire obsessed preppy white girl named Granya (Abbie Gayle; Preacher); and her crush, Chris (Mason Beauchamp; Eat, Brains, Love), Shawna is going full Buffy the Vampire Slayer and cleaning up The Ombreux.
The issue comes in marrying the two together. There isn’t much gelling between the social commentary and the lightness of the coming-of-age story of a teen girl against extraordinary obstacles (“the summer I got breasts and fought vampires”, Shawna tells us). The narrative voice-over adds to the teen-horror-lite vibe as Black as Night struggles to balance two well-done styles into one unified film. That’s where my frustration stems from – a film that gets so many things right and has some killer moments that just feel disparate at times when it comes to marrying the tones.
Despite all that, Black as Night is still a lot of fun. The chemistry between the young leads is quite solid, and Asjha Cooper has an extremely bright future. She fills her role with heart and believability; her dance at the end will break your heart a little bit (in one of the moments where the film DOES feel quite unified). The mansion has a killer exterior, evocative set design for the interior, and a first-rate lair design. The mythology of covens that have evolved past the need to glut on humans having to deal with a renegade coven that is attempting to take over in “might makes right” fashion enhances the social commentary nicely and further enriches the setting. Also, the flashback exposition on the character of Babineaux is an ape of Nia DaCosta’s Candyman shadow puppetry…but I’m not complaining. It’s well-executed and frankly cool.
The events involving Shawna and her mother are legit powerful and stand out. Denise’s end is a ludicrously awful scene that’s followed by a father-daughter talk that’s wonderfully framed and lit, giving real weight to Shawna as a character. Motivation matters, and Black as Night is smartly written in that regard. The homeless crackhead vampire interrogation scene is another great example.
Then there’s Keith David. The man is a legend in the horror genre, so simply adding his presence is a bonus for any film. His role is basically a two-parter: the first a delicious tease, the second incarnation a balls-to-the-wall attack that he clearly had a blast filming. He elevates Black as Night to a different level.
While Black as Night is a little too disjointed in terms of tone to feel decidedly like one thing or the other, it’s still sharply written overall and full of enough interesting pieces and performances to provide you with a New Orleans vampire tale that’s a little bit Buffy and a little bit Candyman with the styling of an alternative Stand by Me.
In other words, it’s a pretty auspicious debut feature for Maritte Lee Go.
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