In a groundbreaking debut by Bomani J. Story, “The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster” breathes new life into Mary Shelley’s classic tale of “Frankenstein.” Set in a predominantly Black and working-class housing development, Story’s contemporary adaptation revolves around Vicaria (Laya DeLeon Hayes), a brilliant teenager grappling with the profound loss of her mother and sibling to brutal gun violence. Driven by her scientific acumen, Vicaria embarks on a daring mission to resurrect her older brother Chris (Edem Atsu-Swanzy), treating death as a curable disease.
Amidst a community burdened by both the loss of the living and the desecration of the dead, Vicaria, known as “The Mad Scientist” by her neighbors, ventures into the shadows as a clandestine figure known as “The Bodysnatcher” emerges, stealing the recently deceased. However, Vicaria’s grotesque endeavor to reconstruct Chris’ lifeless body, while driven by grief, raises ethical questions, especially as she utilizes body parts from other deceased Black individuals. These aspects are particularly unsettling given the charged political context surrounding the deaths portrayed in the film.
“The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster” skillfully captures the harsh realities of a mourning community while exploring the transformative power of awakening the dead. However, the film falls short in examining the narrative implications of reviving loved ones, leaving Chris as a soulless symbol of Vicaria’s desperate attempt to come to terms with her loss using her scientific expertise.
The movie tantalizingly sets the stage, presenting Vicaria as an intermediary navigating the brutality endured by working-class Black individuals, particularly Black boys and girls. Yet, the film ultimately falls into a cycle of wounded communities struggling to survive the aftermath of mass Black death. Despite its potential for metamorphosis and catharsis, as well as opportunities to challenge traditional ideas of life and death, “The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster” falls into a two-step-forward, one-step-back storytelling pattern. While it grants a renewed lease on life to those dear to Vicaria, it fails to address the onscreen cruelty upon which such a breakthrough hinges.
Nevertheless, the film boasts compelling elements that deserve recognition. Laya DeLeon Hayes delivers an exceptional performance as Vicaria, deftly portraying a wide range of emotions while effortlessly intertwining scientific explanations with engaging dialogue. The film’s portrayal of the community as a microcosm of culture successfully captures both its gritty realities and moments of genuine affection.
Story’s direction cleverly integrates nostalgic elements of the mad scientist trope into the film’s Afro-surrealist aesthetic. With striking visuals, including skittery CG lightning bolts, neon lighting, and a pulsating score, the film effectively juxtaposes everyday scenes with disquieting horror sequences. In its concise 92-minute runtime, the movie manages to touch upon various social issues, such as the symbiotic relationship between underserved communities and drug abuse, displaying a nuanced approach to complex topics.
“The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster” serves as a thought-provoking exploration of control and the repercussions of generational trauma. By reincarnating Chris as a faceless Black man, a symbol of unwarranted fear ingrained in society, the film boldly subverts horror tropes. It delves into the social commentary surrounding the vilification of young Black men based on appearances rather than their actions. The violence depicted throughout the narrative is not merely a source of horror; it serves as a powerful symbol of the broader cycles of disenfranchisement plaguing Vicaria’s monster.
While the film exhibits moments of unsettling horror, it predominantly functions as a socially conscious satire, urging viewers to confront systemic issues head-on. However, the execution occasionally leans into heavy-handedness, sacrificing subtlety for the sake of clarity. To maximize the film’s impact, Story could have further developed the monster’s character, offering more interaction with Vicaria and a deeper exploration of the complex themes at play.
“The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster” is a visually captivating and thought-provoking film that challenges conventions while shedding light on the struggles faced by marginalized communities. It calls for a deeper examination of the consequences of violence and systemic failings while offering glimpses of hope amidst grief. Although the film occasionally falters in its execution, it stands as a testament to the power of storytelling and the urgent need for societal change.
Three Reasons to Watch:
Electrifying Performances: Laya DeLeon Hayes shines as Vicaria, masterfully delivering a performance that blends scientific curiosity with heartfelt emotion.
Afro-Surrealist Aesthetic: The film’s striking visuals, including neon lighting and a pulsating score, create an immersive experience that beautifully blends reality and fantasy.
Bold Social Commentary: Through its subversive take on horror tropes, the film confronts systemic issues and challenges societal perceptions, urging viewers to question preconceived notions.
Three Areas of Improvement:
Amplify the Monster’s Role: Further developing the monster’s character and its dynamic with Vicaria would enhance the film’s narrative depth.
Balancing Clarity and Subtlety: While addressing societal issues directly, finding a balance between overt messaging and subtlety could strengthen the film’s impact.
Exploration of Narrative Implications: Delving deeper into the consequences of reviving loved ones and the ethical implications would add a layer of complexity to the storyline.