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Black as Night 2021 Movie Review Poster Trailer Online
Being a young Black woman can be tough, but imagine throwing vampires into the equation. Welcome to the Blumhouse’s latest Amazon Original Films are here, and kickstarting the four-pat film series are Black as Night and Bingo Hell. While it has entertaining moments, Black as Night isn’t very balanced and the overall lack of levity ultimately makes the film a slog to get through.
In Black as Night, we follow a teenaged girl, Shawna (Asjha Cooper), who is struggling with having confidence in herself and a drug-addicted mother (Kenneisha Thompson). Thinking this is the worst of it, Shawna is then attacked one night by a vampire. This kicks off her summer in New Orleans as she helps save her community from falling prey to vampires, alongside best friend Pedro (Fabrizio Guido), love interest Chris (Mason Beauchamp), and vampire fiction lover Granya (Abbie Gayle). Through her battles with vampires, Shawna finally grows to love her skin and begins to develop more confidence in herself.
Sherman Payne’s script is promising, though it packs too much into what could have been a limited series. Mariette Lee Go’s directing elevates the disjointed writing; unfortunately, the story undermines its own promise by being condensed into an 87-minute long narrative to the point that the film feels undercooked and unfulfilling. Furthermore, the story is laced with an abundance of social commentary that doesn’t feel properly addressed, and which doesn’t come to a natural conclusion. Most revelations or poignant moments of information dumps are also abrupt and unearned, especially the plot thread concerning Shawna’s insecurities over being a dark-skinned girl. It is a plot point relevant to her character arc, but one that she doesn’t organically come to terms with over the course of the film. The coming-of-age aspect of the narrative is glossed over to get Shawna from point A, a shy and scared teenage girl, to point B, Shawna the Vampire Slayer.
Despite the potential of the film being undermined by an undercooked story, the film does have some positives. Lee Go’s directing is competent and turns a rather weak script into something watchable. Marginalized people as the leads in genre films and TV is always a plus, even if the story somewhat underserves their characters. Asjha Cooper is endearing as Shawna and she is supported by a rag-tag group of young actors that all do well in their respective roles — specifically, Fabrizio Guido as Pedro. Although at times Pedro feels as though he is written by someone who hasn’t ever met a gay teenaged boy, Guido’s innate charisma does much of the heavy lifting to make Pedro out to be more than a cliché. The one major folly with regards to the cast would be Abby Gayle’s character, who feels wholly unnecessary to the plot as Shawna, Pedro, and Chris could have figured out most of what they learn from her about vampires through the internet.
There is a point in Shawna’s voice-over (yes, there is narration and no, it isn’t particularly great) where she remarks on not being Buffy the Vampire Slayer. To that end, the film might have been served better if it were not overly concerned with being a commentary on the conditions of New Orleans and was simply Buffy The Vampire Slayer with a Black lead. Much of the film’s momentum and excitement is weighed down by moments of serious contemplation on colorism, drug addiction, New Orleans ’ housing crisis, as well as the condition in which marginalized people continue to suffer from the ramifications of Hurricane Katrina.
The film should have decided what it wants to be — fun action-horror-comedy about a group of disparate teens fighting monsters à la Attack the Block or a dramatic coming-of-age story about a young Black girl coming to terms with her complexion and being the daughter of a drug addict — rather than attempting to tackle both of these things at once. Perhaps Black as Night should have been one of Blumhouse’s television series ventures. The film had the potential to be better than it is. All that said, Black as Night is not unwatchable. Likeable leads, an interesting premise, and some pretty cool vampire effects will make for a decently entertaining watch.