Runtime: 87 minutes
Director: Maritte Lee Go
Writer: Sherman Payne
Actors: Asjha Cooper, Fabrizio Guido, Mason Beauchamp, Abbie Gayle, Keith David
By Tom Moore
The second part to Amazon and Blumhouse’s collaborative effort, “Welcome to the Blumhouse”, features Maritte Lee Go’s feature directorial debut telling a New Orleans vampire story with “Black as Night” (2021).
The film takes viewers into a post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans where a teenage girl with self-esteem issues named Shawna (Asjha Cooper) is forced to find confidence while taking revenge on a coven of vampires targeting disenfranchised members of the community that have killed her mother. Although “Black as Night’s” vampires play by the typical rules in being heavily affected by sunlight, garlic, and dying with a stake to the heart as well as having a hierarchy led by a time-spanning vampire, there are some interesting connections to New Orleans history with the motivations behind these vampires and interesting looks that make them stand out.
Any time the vampires are traversing the shadows, Go gives them these glowing red eyes that are super voyeuristic and creepy. It’s also interesting to see the film’s version of vampire hunters that add some mythology about vampires becoming more powerful with age and it’s kind of cool how some of them keep their historic garbs. However, they are pretty generic otherwise with them coming with the usual staples of sharp teeth and claws as well as an insatiable hunger for blood. The whole idea of them becoming immune to certain things with age also doesn’t add interesting obstacles in Shawna having to take them down since the only thing we learn is that sunlight stops affecting them and the by the time we learn that the rest of the film takes place at night. It would’ve been interesting to see Shawna confront the lead vampire during the day or have to find some other way to defeat him other than with the usual rules since sticking to the staples leads to an anti-climactic final battle.
Honestly, this film really needed a bigger budget because its big moments are deeply underwhelming. Vampires simply exploding into dust and a lack of creepiness surrounding their blood-drinking culture make this a very bland vampire flick. Go tries her best to make the vampire kills have a unique impact by adding in this ear-splitting death screech, but it doesn’t overshadow the cheap visual effects the deaths have and this film is pretty bloodless – which is a word that should never be associated with a vampire movie. It’s also a shame that rather than be a summer vampire slugfest, “Black as Night” just feel sluggish with its story.
Even for its short runtime, “Black as Night’s” admirable attempts to give Shawna a relatable, empowering arc and flesh out some of its historical connections fall flat because of their execution and lack of depth. Cooper gives a solid performance bringing out Shawna’s social struggles and growing determination to get revenge, but her arc is filled with narrative tropes. The idea of her having narration could’ve been an interesting tool in showing her building confidence as we initially hear thoughts she’s too shy to say and then have it slowly go away as Shawna finds her voice. However, it’s just used as straight-forward narration that is tiresomely cliché. Other than that, Shawna’s growing confidence also doesn’t come in a satisfying way because her character growth feels choppy and doesn’t take an easy-to-follow path.
The friends that help Shawna also don’t have much depth or breakout out of their stereotypical roles. Pedro (Frabizio Guido) is Shawna’s bestie and while Guido is very enjoyable in the role, his whole story of deciding whether to stay in New Orleans or go to a Texas boarding school is super thin. Chris (Mason Beauchamp) is just the muscle of the group and Shawna’s love interest and the empathetic elements of his character just feel forced. Granya (Abbie Gayle) is easily the most expendable with her only acting as the one who dishes out the vampire knowledge to Shawna and she doesn’t do much else. Even the main bad guy feels a little half-baked and the only remarkable thing about him is that he’s played by genre legend Keith David, who’s presence is always appreciated.
The big reason that “Black as Night” and its big vampiric villain misses the mark is because the historical connections and social issues touched on are severely lacking depth. The story definitely stands out in it touching on hate towards darker skin and finding empowerment through Shawna’s story as well as touching on the impact of gentrification and the effect Hurricane Katrina had on black communities, but none of these historical connections are given the depth they need to leave a deep impact. The film talks a lot about these issues, but never establishes a greater impact outside of its owns story and it would’ve been nice to see these themes and issues, as well as New Orleans horror culture, expanded upon on a wider scale.
The main vampire behind everything also has a plan motivated by the injustices faced by the black community and historical injustices he’s seen and faced, which could’ve been a great way to see generations collide. With Shawna and this vampiric threat seeing the world differently and having different mindsets about how to move forward, a perfect opportunity is gravely missed in having real conversations about their views to give a strong take away. Instead, it’s cut short, and Shawna makes an ending choice that doesn’t feel earned.
“Black as Night” shows the potential to be a biting social exploration of New Orleans struggles and a fun teen vampire flick, but simply doesn’t have the depth to live up to that potential and vastly pales in comparison to similar, superior films like the vastly under watched “Vampires Vs. The Bronx” (2020).