The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster
Vicaria (Laya DeLeon Hayes) is a highly intelligent teenager living in a suburban housing project with her dad, Donald (Chad Coleman, "Copshop"). She’s already lost her mother, her older brother Chris (Edem Atsu-Swanzy) was recently shot and killed by the resident drug dealing gang and now her hard working dad is turning to their product. Overwhelmed by the death all around her, Vicaria believes it is a disease which can be cured in “The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster.”
Laura's Review: C+
Writer/director Bomani J. Story makes his feature debut with an allegorical story which starts off strongly but loses its message in monster mayhem. Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ has been co-opted throughout cinema history, its themes of man’s reach for immortality destroyed by his own arrogance ripe for all kinds of societal commentary. Vicaria’s attempt to bring her brother back from the dead initially seems to be suggesting her monster is embodying black empowerment over the drugs and oppression stifling her community, but the Creature she successfully unleashes immediately sets off a cycle of violence that ricochets back against her own. While Story weaves in several clever callbacks to Shelley’s tale, his own story telling features gaps and continuity problems which confused this viewer.
Take Jada (Amani Summer), the precocious little girl who appears to be Vicaria’s niece but who is never defined as such, the daughter of Aisha (Reilly Brooke Stith) who is carrying Chris’s child. She traipses along with Vicaria to the older girl’s locked lab, referring to her as a ‘mad scientist,’ although we’re never sure just what she really knows. Clearly modeled after the little girl Frankenstein’s monster tried to befriend, she becomes the only one who recognizes the Creature as Chris, who she says talks to her and who she sees through a hole in the wall of her home. But after a family dinner combining two households, Story zooms out to reveal Aisha’s unit and it has no spatial relation to Vicaria’s lab suggested as the other side of that hole.
Story addresses racial oppression early on, Vicaria animatedly engaging with science teacher Mrs. Kempe (Beth Felice), expressing her belief that cancer is not a disease but a symptom. Kempe, annoyed at being challenged intellectually by the only black student in her class, calls security to remove her, an overreaction which immediately recalls the South Carolina incident where a police officer lifted a black girl from her classroom desk and slammed her to the floor for not putting a cell phone away quickly enough.
The film features extraordinary visuals in its midsection (cinematography by Daphne Qin Wu, “Sound of Violence”), Vicaria watching EMTS working on yet another shooting victim with electrical paddles, the young boy’s eyes meeting hers, sparking to life and draining repeatedly, lightning reflecting from his cornea. This is, of course, what inspires Vicaria to use electricity to reenergize Chris, blacking out her entire neighborhood in the process. The towering figure, face obscured by a black hoodie, reddish dreads streaming out from within it, his voice hollow and deep, is immediately told ‘I’m gonna show you what killed you and what’s killing our dad.’
That would be local drug dealer Kango (Denzel Whitaker, "The Great Debaters"), whose machete wielding henchman Jamaal (Keith Holliday) dares to take on the big guy, a bloody battle which terrifies Vicaria and earns her an unlikely ally. White male cops haven’t had this much to worry about since Candyman returned to Cabrini-Green, but the Creature’s failure to distinguish his victims is puzzling and the film’s conclusion, while offering a cute Shelley callback, isn’t logical given what has come before (unless a sequel is planned). “The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster” needed more refining, but it establishes Story as someone to keep an eye on and serves as a nice launching pad for star Laya DeLeon Hayes.
Robin's Review: C+
17-year old Vicara (Laya DeLeon) is a genius, but lives in a neighborhood rife with violence and shootings and her beloved older brother Chris (Edem Atsu-Swanzy), is a victim of yet another neighborhood killing. The young savant, who thinks that death is just another disease, makes a plan to bring him back to life in “The Angry Black Girl and her Monster”
Bomani J. Story writes and helms his directing debut with his adaptation of Mary Shelly’s 1818 classic novel, Frankenstein. It, like the many imitations of the timeless tome, tries to carve out its own version of the monster tale. The result is mixed.
Vicara’s brilliance is established early on as she sneaks into her secret laboratory, hidden in a condemned building. Soon, it becomes obvious, through the use of copious close-ups, that she is stitching a body together. You know her intent when the camera flashes, briefly, to an electrical power station and she zaps her creation with a whole lot of electricity.
But, as is said and quoted from Bobby Burns: “The best-laid schemes of mice and men, often go awry,” and Vicara is in store for a very big, and not so good, surprise. Her plan unravels quickly when she realizes that she has no control over her experiment with life and the new “Chris” wreaks havoc. As in the original, mad scientist and monster will be destroyed in the end – Vicara even uses a maniacal laugh at times.
RLJE Films and Shudder release "The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster" in theaters June 9, 2023, and on VOD and on digital on June 23, 2023.