Stream It or Skip It?


Year two of Amazon Prime’s scary-movie-season quasi-series Welcome to the Blumhouse begins with Black as Night, which kinda what-ifs Buffy into modern-day New Orleans. It stars Asjha Cooper — who’ll pop up in Netflix frightfest There’s Someone Inside Your House next week — as a teenager who gets to slaying when she realizes vampires are ruthlessly preying upon her city’s most downtrodden citizens. Now here’s hoping the movie has her do more than just rustle up a Scooby Gang and stake out her territory. (I’m sorry.)

The Gist: A homeless man is pushing a shopping cart full of pop cans down the street when three men with glowing red eyes and mouthfuls of pointy rat teeth leap from the shadows and disembowel, disempancreas and possibly disemlarynx him. Cut to a rooftop, where Shawna (Cooper) and her best pal Pedro (Fabrizio Guido) sun themselves. Voiceover: “The summer I got breasts was the same summer I fought vampires,” quips Shawna. That’s a lot of change for a timid wallflower type who the outgoing Pedro has to poke and prod to get into a flattering outfit and out of the house. But guess which of the two is ready and raring to kill a vampire to death? That’s right.

Shawna visits the Ombreaux, the last housing project standing in New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina. It’s a crime-ridden place, where dealers in the courtyard lord over junkies in apartment hovels. One of the latter is Shawna’s mother (Kenneisha Thompson), exiled from the family. She clearly loves Shawna, but is really really fighting her addiction. Lots of heartbreak there. That night, Shawna and Pedro hit a party, where she utterly fails to impress her tall, muscly crush, Chris (Mason Beauchamp), and bails early — all the better for a vamp to attack and bite her on the way home.

And yet — she doesn’t become a vampire herself. Curious. Pedro doesn’t believe the vampire story, dismissing it as full-on fried ring baloney. But she believes the vampires are targeting addicts and homeless types, which raises her concern. Pedro comes around when they go to check on her mother, who shows some serious Nosferatu-ian tendencies, e.g., hissing and biting, and bursting into flames when exposed to sunlight. Enraged and aggrieved by her mother’s death, Shawna vows to find out who afflicted her mother with vampirism, then dispatch them to the ever-loving void. She needs some help, so Pedro joins her, along with Chris and eccentric vampire expert Granya (Abbie Gayle). So who’s gonna be the Giles of the club, then, you may ask? NO SPOILERS, I say.

BLACK AS NIGHT MOVIE
Photo: ©Amazon/Courtesy Everett Collection

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (movie and series), with a little bit of Blade maybe.

Performance Worth Watching: OK, so Cooper’s 27, and playing a 15-year-old. If you can get past that, you’ll appreciate the understated charisma she brings to the movie — a movie that needs to give her more interesting things to do and say.

Memorable Dialogue: Pedro: “You’re not, like, a witch or whatever?”

Granya: “Presbyterian.”

Sex and Skin: None.

Our Take: Black as Night takes great pains to establish the socio-economic dynamic of post-Katrina New Orleans via Shauna’s family predicament — they were forced from their home, her mother’s downward spiral was triggered by the tragedy and now there’s an existential threat in that “they” want to tear down the Ombreaux, which is a dump, but also a focal point for Black residents. There’s some discussion of Shauna’s self-conscious feelings because her skin is darker than the more popular Creole girls at school — then she waxes a vamp and it explodes to ash and turns her temporarily white. And there’s a moment in which she corners a vamp and asks what it feels like to have garlic dangled in his face: “Ever been tear-gassed by police?” he replies.

So the writing is smart — smarter than most of its ilk, even. But its execution leaves much to be desired. Its attempt to establish a playful, Buffyesque tone falls flat, and the dialogue is clunky, boilerplate blahblah. It establishes a classical villain in Keith David’s Babineaux, then burdens him with dull speeches. Its characters never really establish any distinctive traits. Technically, it’s ramshackle, with choppy dialogue edits and action sequences rendered incomprehensible by shoddy lighting, shaky cams and a few passes through the Confuse-o-Tron editing machine. It dawdles for more than an hour, then rushes to a chaotic climax. It’s easy to admire the movie’s ambitious point-of-view. But that can’t overcome its banal plotting and lack of dramatic oomph.

Our Call: SKIP IT. Black as Night has its moments, but a refreshing Black-experience narrative isn’t enough to enliven this vampire tale, which is shoddy in almost every other way.

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com or follow him on Twitter: @johnserba.

Stream Black as Night on Amazon Prime





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