The second of this year’s four ‘Welcome to the Blumhouse’ horror movies, Black as Night concerns a black teenager called Shawna (um, 28-year-old Asjha Cooper) living in New Orleans. She suffers from low self-esteem but is forced to grow her confidence after surviving a vampire attack and coming to realise her neighbourhood’s homeless population are being preyed on by the undead. Shawna must therefore convince her friends about what’s going on, and try to destroy the mysterious master vampire.
Directed by Maritte Lee Go (Phobias) and written by Sherman Payne (Charm City Kings), Black as Night is another forgettable vampire film. It’s in the same vein as Netflix’s Vampires vs. The Bronx (2020), only even less successful. The problem with low-budget horror movies like this is that they’re competing against expensive mainstream fare, so need to be inventive in ways that would be a commercial risk for theatrical releases. But nowadays they’re also competing against masses of high-end television productions, where a similar supernatural series will probably have higher production values. The best idea is to fine-tune the script so characters leap off the screen, make sure the premise has a great hook, and ensure there’s plenty of entertaining moments to make audiences overlook any budgetary issues. Black as Night fails on all counts.
There’s potential in the idea of a teenage vampire movie set in post-Katrina New Orleans, starring a majority black cast, directed by an African-American woman, where it’s revealed the main villain has historical ties to New Orlean’s dark past of racial division. But the script doesn’t know what to do beyond the basics of what one expects from a vampire movie, so Black as Night soon becomes tedious and only becomes marginally more entertaining in the third act once Keith David (The Thing, They Live) is allowed to have a bit of fun with razor-sharp teeth while dressed in period costume.
The performances aren’t up to much, the generic vampires look fine but don’t do anything memorable or gruesome, and it doesn’t help to have characters evoke Blade’s Wesley Snipes and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) all the time — which are both inordinately more compelling. There’s also some cringe-making blunders, like Shawna’s randomly inserted and terrible voiceovers. It’s strange that Blumhouse is involved in these Amazon movies, as they have a decent reputation on the big-screen, but projects like this are low-rent and lazy. Amazon may be happy just to have a few new titles to sucker subscribers into streaming around Halloween time each year, but Blumhouse is damaging their brand.
I’d celebrate Black as Night only lasting 87-minutes, but it somehow feels much longer because of the weak pacing and lack of engaging action scenes or frightening moments. It makes me angry that the writer and director were given an opportunity to make a vampire film with a black cast, financed by big players like Amazon and Blumhouse, but tossed off a bare-bones story that isn’t scary, interesting, funny, creative, or really much of anything. It’s just a tile on Amazon Prime Video, tempting you to click because the artwork promises a grimy mash-up of Candyman (1992), The Babadook (2014), and a millennial slasher. One to avoid.
USA | 2021 | 87 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH • SPANISH
Cast & Crew
director: Maritte Lee Go.
writer: Sherman Payne.
starring: Nicole Barre, Mason Beauchamp & Asjha Cooper.