Plenty of direct adaptations of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein have made their way to the big screen. Though it’s not the first version, James Whale’s 1931 Frankenstein – and follow-up Bride of Frankenstein – for Universal Studios created much of the iconography we think of today. Hammer Films made box office dollars off their Peter Cushing and (mostly) Christopher Lee series. Loose adaptations like Splice, Frankenstein’s Army, and Edward Scissorhands found inspiration in the story of mad scientists and misunderstood monsters. And Mel Brooks even found humor in the story with his classic, Young Frankenstein. Now Crypt TV Production, the critically-acclaimed, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster has landed on Shudder.
Vicaria is a brilliant young science student. But her day-to-day world is rife with police brutality, gang violence, poverty, and racism. And death has struck those she loves on more than one occasion. Determined to protect her loved ones, Vicaria hypothesizes that death is just a disease that can be cured. When violence strikes again and takes her older brother, Chris, Vicaria puts her hypothesis to the test with a radical – and potentially dangerous – cure.
The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster Mostly Does a Good Job Mixing Horror and Messaging
Writer and director Bomani J. Story wastes no time establishing how their take on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein will forge its own path. Laya DeLeon Hayes’s opening narration details the pain and loss of her life specifically and the toll racism, as an implicit form of violence, has taken on her community, more generally. It’s the setting of the Frankenstein mythology in a contemporary urban Black community that gives the story a new lease on life. Specifically, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster intertwines conventional horror aesthetics with a progressive narrative. Scenes at Vicaria’s school where Story shows us both implicit and explicit forms of bias are just as horrifying as the more traditional horror elements. Perhaps these story bits make the overall pacing fell a bit choppy. Nevertheless, Story’s centering the familiar mythos on the Black experience lends some emotional gravitas.
Specifically, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster intertwines conventional horror aesthetics with a progressive narrative.
If the pacing is occasionally choppy, Story knows how to deliver a scary scene or two. Some of the horror elements in The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster rely a bit too heavily on sudden camera edits and loud sounds. While there’s suspense and tension, it’s more sporadic then consistent. Nevertheless, Story delivers several effective jolts amidst the thriller’s quieter moments. Though story doesn’t lean heavily on violence, when it happens on screen, it feels appropriately shocking. Moreover, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster doesn’t overexpose its titular ‘Frankenstein’, making the appearances more impactful.
The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster Finds a Star-Making Performance From Its Lead
Just how much the social message affects The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster’s finale will be a matter of perspective. Without spoiling details, Story’s creative decision at the end could be interpreted as contradicting – maybe even undermining – the intent of Shelley’s original story. On the other hand, one could also argue that the final scene is wholly in keeping with Story’s contemporary updating of Frankenstein. For a story focused on its character’s journey to find hope and meaning in her violent world, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster obliges with an optimistic conclusion that furthers the agency of its main character.
Embracing the richness of the character, Hayes is impressive in the role as she shows off a range of emotions.
And speaking of its main character, the relatively unknown Laya DeLeon Hayes absolutely shines as ‘Vicaria’. In what’s a testament to allowing people to tell their own stories, Story has written a fully realized character – a strong, young Black woman who’s a genius. Embracing the richness of the character, Hayes is impressive in the role as she shows off a range of emotions. Most importantly, Hayes understands what drives the ‘mad scientist’ character as originally envisioned by Shelley. The life and circumstances driving the character’s experiments feel relatable and believe in the thriller’s context.
The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster a Stand-out Horror Movie in 2023
Though we’ve seen countless iterations of the Frankenstein story, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster finds more than just a new way narratively to approach the story. As a result of centering the story in a Black urban experience, Bomani J. Story adds emotional gravitas to the myth and opens the story to wider audiences. Some of the wider social context breaks up the pacing, but Story doesn’t forget to deliver effective scares. Whether ending satisfies or frustrates will also depend on one’s perspective. But the overall story and Laya DeLeon Hayes’ star-making turn elevates The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster to one of the year’s better horror movies.