One of life’s greatest wounds is death and the subsequent grief that follows. It is the steep price we pay for the honor of communing and sharing our soul with another living being. Their absence forces us to accept and acclimate to a new version of normal, one with a landmine of triggers that can slice our emotional flesh at any given moment. And, for some of us, death and loss are repetitive, cyclical hells that threaten to completely consume us at any moment like an invasive disease. But, what if death itself were a disease that could be cured? Would we want the antidote, even if it came with bloody ramifications? That is the crux of Bomani J. Story’s horror drama The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster, a oft-bleak meditation on systemic oppression and violence, heartbreak, and death.
The film borrows general inspiration from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein but shifts its setting to a disenfranchised project housing development. At its center is Vicaria (Laya DeLeon Hayes), a gifted Black teenage scholar whose life has been marred by her surroundings. After losing her mother years prior and her brother Chris (Edem Atsu-Swanzy) recently to gun violence, Vicaria sees death as a disease and is on a mission to cure it. Unfortunately, her environment provides ample test subjects as she desires to bring her brother back to life. She’s the polar opposite of Dr. Frankenstein’s classic depiction as a wealthy privileged white man who is, in a sense, playing God because he can.
She’s jokingly called the “mad scientist” and the moniker fits. This is especially true when she pulls flesh apart and reassembles it while disturbingly chuckling at her own brilliance. But, this is not about exploitation or satisfying a need to create something world-changing. Instead, Vicaria wants to bring balance to a community that is constantly in flux and soothe her palpable pain. A stroke of genius, luck, and, yes, electricity resurrects her brother… but there is a price to pay. Chris is not fully himself, but rather an entity hellbent on revenge. He seemingly reacts from a place of crushing residual pain from his life that ended far too soon. But, Vicaria’s pain and motivations provide further fuel for his actions, too.
DeLeon Hayes delivers a stunning performance as the titular and righteously angry Black girl. She dips between morbid curiosity, panicked fretting, paralyzing terror, and unbridled confidence with ease. Her heartbreaking rationale and ever-changing currents of grief will resonate with viewers as she parses through her grief. Vicaria fights against the ills of society with the only tools she has: her mind and determination.
The always-stunning Chad L. Coleman makes every second of his screen time count as Vicaria’s loving and protective father Donald, who struggles with drug usage and regrets. And, Denzel Whitaker’s Kango is a solid deuteragonist who is both a part of the problem and the solution. Whitaker and DeLeon Hayes go for several verbal sparring rounds with the final one packing a mighty punch. It is perhaps the best scene in the entire film that blurs the lines between hero and supposed villain.
The film’s version of the Modern Prometheus, however, is a mixed bag. Much of the resurrected Chris’ time depicts him as a vengeful boogeyman whose actions increasingly affect those who loved him. In a sense, this presents the conundrum about what it means to be alive. It surely is more than jolts of electrical energy through our bodies that make our hearts pump. Chris is breathing, walking, and can even say a few words but the essence of him is no longer present.
The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster uses Chris’ twisted body and exploits to lean into its horror. He presents as a shadowy hooded figure with a gravelly voice. His twisted fingers creep around a corner, a single eye peeking from an abandoned space to watch in silence. Story’s professed adoration for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Shining are crystal clear. There’s no holding back on the brutality he delivers but the gore is realistic vs. a more splatter approach to match the film’s overall tone. Unfortunately, the interactions between Vicaria and her resurrected brother lack the frequency and connection to truly drive home the film’s points about his humanity and motivations.
Despite a rather lean 92-minute runtime, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster painfully sags in the middle. The focus wanders too far away from its primary plot, losing the steam that it successfully built in its first act. Thankfully, things wander back on course for the third act with an intense, surprising, and thought-provoking finish. Overall, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster is an innovative take on a Gothic tale with sharp dialogue, solid performances, and a protagonist who wields a mighty power.
The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster will hit theaters on June 9. It will hit on Demand and Digital on June 23 before it later finds a home on Shudder and AllBlk.