Synopsis: Vicaria is a brilliant teenager who believes death is a disease that can be cured. After the brutal and sudden murder of her brother, she embarks on a dangerous journey to bring him back to life.
Stars: Laya DeLeon Hayes, Denzel Whitaker, Chad L. Coleman, Reilly Brooke Stith, Keith Holliday
Director: Bomani J. Story
Running Length: 92 minutes
TMMM Score: (5.5/10)
Review: To properly access a modern retelling of a classic, a filmmaker must approach it with caution. There needs to be a modicum of respect for the source material but enough chutzpah to blaze their trail and make the necessary updates to tailor the work to their interpretation. The best of these can make you forget by the end that you’re watching a re-working of an existing story altogether. This has resulted in several stellar updates, with Amy Heckerling’s 1995 high-school comedy Clueless as an update of Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’ remaining one of the best examples of how to do it right.
You could pencil in writer/director Bomani J. Story’s The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster on the list of reasonable attempts, even if I wouldn’t place it relatively as high. Story has used Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ as inspiration for his debut feature, an urban horror tale that blends in sci-fi elements and social justice messages to shape it into a hulking beast that resembles Shelley’s 1818 masterpiece but only just. Filling out the narrative with issues that haunt our world today, Story gives his movie new terrors to deal with on top of the gruesome creation his well-intentioned pseudo-heroine cobbles together.
Living in a constant shadow of violence, Vicaria (Laya DeLeon Hayes) experiences loss at an early age when she witnesses her mother gunned down, an unintended victim in the wrong place at the wrong time. Vicaria’s voiceover tells us this is just one of the many incidents she’s observed that fueled her need to “cure death” and pressed her to read up on the science behind mortality. This poses trouble at school, where her brilliant mind puts her at odds with a teacher unwilling to let her ask difficult questions (or pronounce her name right), and at home, where they’ve never fully dealt with the violence creeping closer to their front door.
Eventually, that danger does strike, and takes her older brother with it. Refusing to let another family member fall, Vicaria takes his body back to a makeshift workshop near her neighborhood housing and carries out an experiment long in the planning. It involves body parts she’s gathered, some wires, a dash of science, and a major amount of electricity. You can guess what will happen next. Yet the silent darkness she brings back isn’t whom she intended, and things quickly get out of control, forcing Vicaria to protect her remaining loved ones from a seemingly unstoppable creation.
Enough good ideas are happening in The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster to give audiences a sharp electrical jolt throughout, with all the traditional horror boxes being checked. It’s most efficient with its pacing, creatively proactive with its plot (the sly ties to Shelley’s story require careful attention), and features a fantastic leading performance from DeLeon Hayes. Still, it has trouble when it comes to threading its horror norms with the social ideology that, while essential and well-intentioned, comes off as inconsistent with other aspects of the film. Vicaria’s creation is born out of a desire to cure death, yet she knowingly stays silent as it rampages around her community with increasingly horrific consequences.
While I wanted The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster to be a smoother assembly of the retold plot, Story aptly plays with Shelley’s original outline. For better or worse, it’s brought to the present with a vision and voice that I’d be interested in keeping an eye on for the future. Story has found a massive talent in DeLeon Hayes, and if the rest of the cast doesn’t quite rise to her same level, her central performance drives the final output almost completely.
THE ANGRY BLACK GIRL AND HER MONSTER is now in theaters.
It will be on Demand and on Digital on June 23, 2023.
It will stream on ALLBlk and on Shudder at a later date.