Mike’s Review: The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster (SXSW 2023)

★★★★ out of ★★★★★

🩸🩸 out of 🩸🩸🩸🩸🩸 for mild gore and violence. 

Directed by Bomani J. Story.

A hundred years on we’ve been blessed and not-so-blessed with hundreds, or maybe thousands of Frankenstein-related films. Remakes, reboots, re-imaginations, a reworking of the Mary Shelley source material, and even re-re-working of Shelley’s book. The Frankenstein mythos has comfortably slipped into our collective horror zeitgeist. 

Is there any fresh way to explore “man’s inhumanity to man” in the context of the Frankenstein story? Turns out there is. Not only is it fresh, it actually contains a couple of decent jump scares packed into a story with empathy, love, and a black teen girl taking on the august role of Dr. Victor Frankenstein. 

Vicaria F., (Laya DeLeon Hayes) again, not to be confused with Dr. Frankenstein — is the strong-willed and decidedly less insane contemporary to the mad scientist trope. She’s a prisoner of drug-infested North Carolina projects and she’s also contending with the trauma brought on by the passing of her brother Chris (Edem Atsu-Swanzy) at the hands of fellow gang members. 

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Director Bomani J. Story talks about his creation at SXSW.

Vicaria’s trauma is very raw and real, but she’s able to mask her troubled surroundings in the warm glow of transistors, diodes, and SCIENCE! While she’s working on escaping her late-stage capitalism surroundings through scientific aptitude and a private school, she’s also fighting against a system that may not necessarily want her to succeed. 

As Vicaria holes up in an abandoned auto body shop nearby the ever-present drug dealing in her community, she begins to slowly piece apart the macerated remains of her brother Chris. There’s no mother in the picture and her father Donald (Chad L. Coleman), while well-meaning and hard-working, has also been captured by the evils of drugs. 

As you’d guess, Valeria is eventually successful in her quest to resurrect her brother. As you’d also guess, he’s not quite the same person as he once was. His grotesque facial features don’t come from the pieces and parts that have been assembled, but they come from carefully molding the gunshot that removed half of his head. The practical effects used to create the monster are spectacular, gross, and stomach-churning. 

The monster is not the only inject that Valeria is forced to deal with in the projects. She’s also contending with local gang members, like Kango (Denzel Whitaker) and her father’s growing addiction. The monster, while sympathetic, is also a bundle of misguided vengeance and rage. He connects with a young girl in the housing complex, but director Bomani J. Story is sure to stay clear of the daisy/Frankenstein exchange in 1931’s James Wale classic. There’s an exchange, but it’s far more frightening than the daisies in Frankenstein. 

The myriad of societal woes that The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster manages to balance is nothing short of amazing. Every scab, ailment, and cultural malady is on full and complete display. But, director Bomani J. Story is able to counter-balance these shortcomings with care, empathy, and true love that all the characters feel for each other. In a series of earnest and Speilbergian exchanges, Story is able to subvert the “man’s inhumanity to man” storyline and instead creates a hopeful and decent depiction of our social obligations to each other. 

Chad Coleman, Denzel Whitaker, Laya DeLeon Hayes, and director Bomani J. Story at SXSS 2023.

While Bomani J. Story is the real hero of this film, there’s not a bad actor on set. From Laya DeLeon Hayes near perfect performance as Vicaria (AKA Dr. Frankenstein) to the compassion and care that actor Chad L. Coleman brings to light as her father, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster is exceptionally cast. 

The end of the film provides an interesting, if not divergent, take on the original Mary Shelley story, but it also leaves a little room for The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster II. While the Frankenstein story has never really been ripe for a sequel, if Bomani J. Story is at the helm, and he’s able to reassemble this cast, then there might be a glimmer of hope for Frankenstein II: The Return of Vicaria!

The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster premiered at SXSW 2023 and will be playing in theaters, on demand, and digital on June 9, 2023.

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