Black as Night debuted on Amazon Prime this Friday. The vampire story owes a lot to its predecessors while trying something new.
Written by Sherman Payne (Scream: The TV Series) and directed by Maritte Lee Go (Fractured) in her feature debut, Black as Night follows a teenage girl named Shawna (Asjha Cooper) and her GBF Pedro (Fabrizio Guido) as they spend their summer in New Orleans fighting vampires who are attacking the homeless, drug-addicted residents of the city’s housing projects. Along for the ride are her big crush Chris (Mason Beauchamp) and a rich girl named Granya (Abbie Gayle) who is obsessed with the undead.
Sadly, that’s about all the character development Payne gave his characters. Certainly they come together to save their friends and family, but it all seems tenuous at times.
Shawna narrates the story with the feel of Carrie Bradshaw with lines like “That was the Summer I got breasts and fought vampires” or “Did that really just happen? Was I bitten by a vampire?” Unfortunately, that’s par for much of the storytelling in a film that can’t seem to figure out what it wants to be.
Black as Night draws comparisons–even in its own dialogue–to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but never commits to that fully. It also takes sudden, rough deep dives into heavier topics like colorism, gentrification, and disenfranchisement that come from nowhere only to disappear without ever really affecting the storyline. The result is a plot that is jarring at the worst of times and head-scratching at others.
Still there are things to like about Black as Night. The cast jumps into their roles with both feet, committing to the absurdity of the script almost to a fault resulting in characters who are tropes themselves yet almost believably so.
Shawna is the dark-skinned girl who gets hell from everyone around her for being so dark, and she’s tempted by vampires covet it as a power. Pedro is a ridiculous gay stereotype who is also a track star with the opportunity to go to a better school and a better life and emerges as one of the most promising characters in the film.
Chris is the party-boy jock with a heart of gold who actually likes the dark-skinned girl even though he won’t say that around his friends but comes through when the chips are down. Granya is a privileged rich white girl who drops what she’s doing to help strangers but eventually runs away when the going gets tough…or does she?
The question is: Is this a fault in the film?
Is the lack of character development and rough transitions from one topic to the other a fault in the storytelling? Or did they intentionally play up the stereotypes and tropes in an effort to subvert expectations and trick their audience into thinking more deeply about the issues?
I’m not sure I know the answer to that.
What I do know is that when the film works, it really works. When it doesn’t…well, sometimes it just doesn’t.
In the meantime, you also have an over-the-top performance by Keith David as a street-preacher who might be something more and an attempt at a new mythology for vampires that could actually be really potent in the hands of the right writer. Both of these things make a watch of Black as Night a fun watch. Moreover, even with an honest look at its faults, the film is no less enjoyable than some of the stale 80s horror films fans call “classics” while overlooking bad writing, bad acting, etc.
My advice to all you horror fans out there is to check it out yourself. You can see the movie on Amazon Prime now along with Bingo Hell which also debuted on Friday. Check out the trailer for Black as Night below.