Vicaria (Laya DeLeon Hayes) is obsessed with the notion of death, but not in the morbid way that minds tend to go. Death has been an unfortunate constant throughout her life. In the opening moments of The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster, the audience witnesses her mother, and older brother Chris (Edem Atsu-Swanzy) die due to gang violence. The first line of dialogue you hear from her is, “Death is a disease.” Writer-director Bomani J. Story takes the 1818 classic tale of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and flips it in a way that applies to the Black experience. It challenges the archetype of the “mad scientist” within the construct of social issues pulling from different angles.
At the heart of the matter, you have a brilliant teenager with limited avenues to let her active imagination breathe and grow fully. Thus, Vicaria immerses herself in the notion that death is a curable condition. Her father, Donald (Chad L. Coleman), struggles with this amount of loss to the point where he turns to drugs. This keeps an adversarial relationship with Vicaria and local drug dealer Kango (Denzel Whitaker) at a fever pitch. When Kango attends a well-off private school, she has to contend with a racist teacher who often mispronounces her name and chastises her for her theories. Her neighborhood is riddled with instances of police brutality and random shootings.
With all that in mind, she spends her time in an abandoned warehouse conducting her experiment to bring her brother back from the dead. There are whispers in the neighborhood about a person named the “body snatcher” – someone who has been taking an extensive collection of the dead (including Chris). Story uses the monster as a metaphor for those left behind to fend for themselves in society’s gaze. Everybody within The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster feels like they are a tragic victim of circumstance – the dealers who sell poison to make money, the addicts who take drugs to numb the pain, and the people who have to dodge pitfalls to survive it all.
Much of the success surrounds the performance of DeLeon Hayes, who effortlessly moves from an obsessive sense of accomplishment to a terrified teenager who wants to do the right thing. There is less that we can see from the actual monster’s perspective other than being an effective horror device. The reanimated version of Chris is often obstructed in darkness – the top part of a hoodie covers his dismembered face. More of the horror moments that work deal with impressive practical effects – especially with the initial construction of the monster. Sometimes, the quick cuts during the kill scenes can distract from the overall impact they want to implore, but conventional horror moments provide a helpful bridge into different stages.
When it comes to the later motivations of a couple of secondary characters, some questions may arise in the choices they decide to take. But Story’s ability to acknowledge some source material from Shelley’s story (Vicaria makes a book of her findings named The Modern Prometheus) and deviate from it into a poignant conversation about who are considered monsters is critical to the success of The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster. One of the most powerful scenes in this film occurs when a child is accidentally shot, and as paramedics scramble to revive him, the scene fixates on his face as he takes his last breaths. It’s as if Story wants us to see the ugly parts that many choose to ignore.
While death is a heavy contributor to sadness within this film, Vicaria’s devotion to her family and conversations with her friend and Chris’s ex-girlfriend Aisha (Reilly Brooke Stith) and her daughter Jada (Amani Summer Boyles) looks to display the prevailing spirit that Black people show despite their circumstances. The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster has plenty of science fiction for those looking for it with a message to match.