The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster (2023) Review
The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster is not the first version of Frankenstein set in the Black community. There was Black Frankenstein, better known as Blackenstein, back in 1973 and more recently FrankenThug. The difference is while the previous two versions were exploitation films, writer/director Bomani J. Story (Mill Street, Rock Steady Row) set out to make a more serious film, one that like Mary Shelly’s novel, is out to do more than just deliver scares.
Vicaria (Laya DeLeon Hayes, The Equalizer, Doc McStuffins) has not had an easy life. At eight she saw her mother shot and killed. In the wake of that, Chris (Edem Atsu-Swanzy, Foresight, Who We Are) started working for local gang boss Kango (Denzel Whitaker, Black Panther, Follow Me) and ended up dead. Now she watches her father Donald (Chad L. Coleman, The Walking Dead, Copshop) struggle to support her despite the growing drug habit he’s developed trying to cope with their deaths.
Everyone knows Vicaria is smart but nobody, including Mrs. Kempe (Beth Felice, Halloween Kills, My Awkward Dad) the teacher who calls security on her for daring to disagree with her, suspects just how smart. In the voiceover that begins the film, she says that death is a disease. And as we soon find out she intends to cure it, using Chris’ body as her proof of concept.
Right from the start Story hits the viewer with the harsher realities of Vicaria’s world, gang violence, death and racism. The last of those leads to a powerful early scene where the girl’s father confronts Mrs. Kempe and demands she put her ego and her prejudices aside and teach his daughter. In that one scene, we see her father is determined to fight for his child despite his own issues. We also see where she got the determination and power of will to build her own laboratory and attempt such an audacious undertaking while still in high school. It’s one of The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster’s defining moments.
Similarly, he introduces us to other residents like Chris’s widow Aisha (Reilly Brooke Stith, Brooklyn’s Finest, The Crooked Man), who’s raising two small children and carrying a third. She insists her children will get an education and escape the projects. It’s a portrait that while not shying away from the problems these people face, goes deeper than the typical portrait of a community composed of nothing but dealers and pimps, hookers and addicts and shows those striving for a better life in ways that don’t involve sports, rap or crime.
It’s against this background that The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster’s more conventional horror plays out when, as is usually the case, the Chris that Vicaria brings back is not the same as he was before. Changed in more ways than just his rotting body, he lashes out in anger and pain, leaving a trail of bodies and bringing his sister into conflict with Kango.
The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster is the kind of intelligent horror film we don’t see enough of. It’s not elevated horror and doesn’t shy away from putting blood, body parts and rotting flesh on the screen. It also doesn’t preach to the audience, it has its message to deliver but it’s worked into the story, not delivered in expository dialogue or with heavy-handed caricatures replacing well-developed characters. Even potentially stock villains like Kango and his muscle Jamaal (Keith Holliday, A Brother’s Turmoil, The Fekuo) are given some depth and shading.
Story’s efforts are supported by strong performances from the cast, especially Laya DeLeon Hayes who gives a standout performance as a high school student who is caught between being a driven genius and a scared teen. Cinematographer Daphne Qin Wu (Sound of Violence, The Blackout Experiment) and editor Annie De Brock (Harley Quinn, Waffles + Mochi) do a good job of presenting Chris’s rampage and heightening the impact of the film’s bloodier scenes without relying on more gore than is needed.
The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster is a compelling watch right through to its ending which can be seen as either hopeful or horrific depending on one’s perspective. It will be interesting to see where Bomani J. Story goes from here.
RLJE Films will release The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster in theatres on June 9th. It will come to VOD and Digital Platforms on June 23rd and to the Shudder and AllBlk streaming services at a date to be announced later. While you wait you can check with FilmTagger for something similar to watch.