From the first minute, the most noticeable aspect of The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster is the freshness it brings to an overdone premise. Mary Shelley’s groundbreaking novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, and its subsequent Universal adaptation starring the timeless Boris Karloff set the tone for monster movies to come, and many studios and directors have attempted to capture its ethical and morbid affectations. Many have tried, plenty failed, but others are passable (see Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 adaptation), comedic parodies – e.g., the Mel Brooks masterpiece Young Frankenstein – notwithstanding. Most, however, including the “modern” adaptations, follow the structure and themes made famous by Shelley and, primarily, Universal’s classics.
Bomani J. Story, making his feature-length directorial debut, subverts many of the elements of Frankenstein that audiences now consider formulaic. The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster follows Vicaria F. (guess what her last name probably is), a brilliant young Black girl with a prevailing scientific theory: death is a disease, not simply a state of being. In her impoverished urban neighborhood, Vicaria has witnessed her mother’s and brother’s violent deaths, the catalysts behind her unique philosophy and a desire to “fix” death by bringing her brother, Chris, back to life. When she does, Vicaria and the resurrected Chris must navigate the dangerous community and the drug-running gangsters presiding over it. Already, Story’s project tells a far different tale than nearly every other Frankenstein adaptation, and it does so quite successfully.
The film hits on Vicaria’s position of academic excellence among her less fortunate peers, family members, and neighbors, the realities of drug addiction and gang violence, and the importance of a supportive community. None of these themes feel forced or out of place, and it helps that The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster is less a story about racism and more an examination of displaced Black Americans trying to survive under difficult circumstances, and it all happens through the eyes of a majority Black cast interacting with one another. As far as the horror is concerned, Chris, as the hulking, menacing Modern Prometheus, is effectively scary but hardly as affectionate and intricate as Karloff’s lumbering softie. And oddly enough, most of his scenes play out like slasher sequences rather than the methodically paced, brooding shockers of his gothic predecessors. The stylistic shift isn’t necessarily unwelcome but surprising given the movie’s otherwise heavy subject matter.
In terms of style, Story’s directorial debut stuns with its cinematography, sound design, and 70s exploitation-reminiscent splatter effects. The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster loftily carries a sense of macabre wonder amidst a grainy photo filter and vibrant colors. But despite all of its strong qualities, including standout performances from Laya DeLeon Hayes as Vicaria and Chad Coleman as her father, Donald, the outstanding weight of the script’s efforts to showcase the many sides of urban Black survival ultimately fails many of its characters. Their arcs begin with such promise, gain a head of steam effortlessly, and then peter out disappointingly; in many cases, the characters change far too little, if at all, given everything that has happened to them, making the journey feel pointless. Otherwise, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster is an impressive effort for Story, whose eye for visual flair and imagination are worth following