Sometimes a fresh setting can do wonders for a horror movie.
“Black as Night” takes place in a hardscrabble section of New Orleans, not your generic big city or small town backdrop. Add a shy Final Girl with a budding backbone, and you’re set for something special.
Too bad the vampire thriller falls flat in most other areas, from interesting dialogue to rote genre tricks.
Oh, and it’s the latest “socially conscious” horror movie, so we get woke messaging between the bites.
Shawna (Asjha Cooper) lives with her father, but she frequently drops by a run-down apartment block to visit her drug-addled Ma. The rest of her time is spent with her stereotypically swishy bud Pedro (Fabrizio Guido). He’s there to crack wise and cheer on her self-confidence, which could use a Fauci-like booster shot.
Her teen angst gets interrupted by a late night vampire attack. Someone, or something, is turning local homeless people into blood-sucking freaks.
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Except she doesn’t die or turn into a vampire herself after getting bitten. When a loved one isn’t so lucky she vows to take her neighborhood back, with plucky Pedro by her side.
Cooper is the best reason to watch “Black as Night,” giving us a horror heroine who’s neither headstrong nor victim. Her supporting team isn’t as vibrant, or vital. The local hunk (Mason Beauchamp) is the blankest of blank slates. Guido’s performance feels like he’s tracing previous versions of his stock buddy character.
The always excellent Keith David, granted a more comprehensive role that we initially expect, is the film’s secret weapon.
Amazon Prime is billing “Black as Night” as a horror comedy, but there’s so little of the former it feels like a marketing miscue. The scares are in short supply, too, leaving us to savor the limited gore and vampire antics. Kudos to the team behind the movie for not going all-in on R-rated mayhem given how teens may flock to the film.
In the grand “Get Out” tradition “Black as Night” trots out a series of woke nods, from the standard slams on the police and Texas to ugly swipes at white people. A heroic white vampire hunter joins the fray, trying to show she’s an “ally.”
“White people are sort of terrifying,” she says, a line that might spark boycotts if another race got name checked instead.
Otherwise, director Maritte Lee Go struggles to maintain that fizzy energy found in better horror romps. The plot never stalls outright, but there’s little sense of mounting fear or tension.
The best moment comes late in the film, when the head vampire reveals his twisted motivation. The speech is progressive to the core, but it’s spoken in a way that fleshes out his evil deeds, giving this vampire romp a social pulse at long last.
HiT or Miss: “Black as Night” is generic to the core, but its plucky heroine is impossible to root against.