I called a last minute audible for my horror watch when I saw the trailer for Black as Night, the sixth film in the Blumhouse/Amazon partnership under the Welcome to the Blumhouse series. Although it’s a bit reductive to look at this as a “what if Buffy The Vampire Slayer was about a young black girl in post-Katrina New Orleans” riff, it’s not exactly inaccurate, either. But that doesn’t do justice to the great lead performance by Asjha Cooper, or the subjects it tries to cover, from being comfortable in your body to the social ills plaguing the black communities abandoned after the real-world horrors of Katrina. So, a film not without its problem, but certainly not without its charms.
THE QUICK SUMMARY: It was the summer Shawna finally got breasts…and the summer she became a vampire killer. The young Shawna is struggling – she’s constantly being reinforced that her dark complexion isn’t the trend with what’s “beautiful” and she also dealing with a mother living in the projects of New Orleans, a victim of drugs and an uncaring power structure that left her in a traumatic place after the horrors of Hurricane Katrina. On top of all of that, it looks like someone or something is preying on the homeless in the projects. When Shawna herself is attacked after leaving a party, she comes to understand the unholy threat that is plaguing her community, although the reason why might be a much harder thing to face than the armies of the undead coming to feast of the blood of the community…
Right off the bat, while I enjoyed Black as Night overall it felt like too many ideas crammed into too short a space. In an ideal world this would be the launch for a series, and we’d be checking in on Shawna and her friends and the nightmare stalking them each week. Alas, we have to settle for a 90-minute film that yes, leaves the door open for more but feels like director Maritte Lee go tried to shove everything she could as far as social commentary into it. Which still makes for an enjoyable action/horror film, but I wish it could breathe a bit.
But even thought the messages may be somewhat shoehorned into the story, they’re still effective and handled with care. A lot of that is thanks to Asjha Cooper as Shawna, who sells every tortured moment of her insecurities, whether it’s dealing with a drug-addicted mother looking for a dollar to longingly eyeing a jar of skin lightener. She makes Shawna absolutely real, and you feel the temptation she has as the truth of what is happening is imparted to her and she’s given the usually cliche choice of joining or else. Helping Shawna along the way is her best friend Pedro, played by the wonderfully named Frabizio Guido. What could have been played as the stereotypical gay best friend is instead given a sassy life that masks not just fear of the larger world accepting him, but an emphasis on truly caring about his community and wanting to make it better.
That desire plays heavily into Black as Night, and it made for an enjoyable way to spend the evening. I’m not a sucker for everything Blumhouse puts out, but I really enjoy the chances they’re taking on new talent, and Black as Night shows that paying off.