A fine line exists between statement movies and movies that contain a statement. Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Blumhouse Television is back this year with “Welcome To The Blumhouse,” a continuing anthology of horror films. The first two in the lineup are varied in their approaches to gentrification, with characters standing their ground, with solid central protagonists and one-dimensional stories.
Black as Night
“Black as Night,” directed by Maritte Lee Go from a teleplay by Sherman Payne explores the gentrification of New Orleans’ public housing through the lens of 15-year-old Shawna (Asjah Cooper), a timid teenager with low self-esteem. Payne uses the mythology of vampirism and a longer view of history’s treatment of African Americans in this country to carry Shawna’s arc. The story starts glacially slowly, to the point where I almost turned the movie off; however, there was an earnestness about Cooper’s performance that caught my attention.
Sure, the story is filled with high school-type courting and the young cast’s hope for the future. As the tale primes its way through the second act, the pacing picks up a bit more. Cooper is aided by her gay best friend, Pedro (Fabrizio Guido), with the wisdom of a 70-year-old as the homeless in Hombreaux Housing are turning up dead or missing, amongst the dead, leading to a story of revenge.
Both Go and Payne use the pain of Shawna’s separation from her mom and her death for Shawna to regain her self-esteem, allowing the story to pick up speed. The film, shot mostly at night, is potently lit with daytime scenes shot under overcast skies. This story leads us through shocks and scares that abound as Shawna seeks revenge on the people committing these atrocities.
“Black as Night” is a statement movie rather than being a movie with a statement akin to Nia DaCosta’s recent remake/semi-sequel, “Candyman” or Justin Chon’s “Blue Bayou,” where both films choose their storyline over their message. “Black as Night” barely succeeds over “Candyman.” David Keith’s supporting role is worth noting with his screen presence. “Black as Night” feels just as one-dimensional as “Candyman”. The history presented in “Black as Night” also helps to convey the retribution and actions of the cast. Go’s direction is assured, only in as much as the material allows her to be. The slower start to the story doesn’t do the material any favors; however, the cinematography speaks volumes.
“Dark as Night” is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
The second film in the 2021 “Welcome to the Blumhouse” is Gigi Saul Guerrero’s “Bingo Hell,” which sees a supposedly tight-knight community unraveled at the hands of the devil himself who uses greed, avarice, and deceit to lure unsuspecting seniors.
Featuring Adriana Barraza, the community of Oak Springs has an imbalance between the people who have inhabited the community for years and the up-and-coming gentrification.
Barraza plays Lupita, a community leader who has rallied the community in the past to stave off future development. Guerrero doesn’t like the face staring back at her in the mirror, accepting her frailties. There is pride in her step, knowing that she is on the front-line of defense in the community, littered with a mixture of “store closing” and “future development” signs. Yolanda’s salon is a fixture in the community, as is Bertila Damas’ Yolanda, as is L. Scott Caldwell’s Delores. The latter is fighting a different war within her own family.
The town’s bingo hall is a place where all the community members can gather. When Mr. Big, played by a welcome over-the-top Richard Brake, rushes into the city while increasing the winnings in the bingo pool, they start trading winnings for their lives.
Money is a huge factor in the story by Guerrero, Shane McKenzie, and Perry Blackshear, as the community members suffer from a lack of government support in their infrastructure amid the push to clear out existing homeowners and shop owners. Delores’ daughter Raquel (Kelly Murtaugh) and grandson Caleb (Joshua Caleb Johnson) argue over housing arrangements and Caleb’s delinquency when Raquel strikes it rich, turning Caleb from a delinquent into the next-generation warrior for fairness and equity.
The story is solid if one-dimensional. Garish lighting gives way to horrific deaths, and an even more horrific look, as in the look blows out any drama that the characters’ plight deserves. It is understood that the bright lights are intended to be a siren and to wash out any hope in surviving the situation. Lupita’s unwillingness to relent to the impending gentrification is something to applaud, and the film manages to get over the line into a movie as a statement piece.
The film’s short run time of 85 minutes doesn’t allow the story the room to breathe, even in its current state. Even the horror elements in the film are more thriller than horrific, rendering the start to 2021’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” moot.
Now streaming on Amazon Prime, “Bingo Hell” and “Black as Night” are misfires in the Blumhouse anthology. Both films have exciting contexts but ultimately come across as one-dimensional. Next week, the second set of films, “Madres” and “The Manor,” debut on Amazon Prime. You can read our review on the second set of films here!
- Welcome to the Blumhouse: 'Black as Night' and 'Bingo Hell'