Directed by Joe West, Julian Christian Lutz, Zandashe Brown, Rob Greenlea,
Robin Givens, Kimani Ray Smith.
Starring Lesley Ann-Brandt, Lenora Critchlow, Tony Todd, Peter Stormare.
Horror, US, 152 minutes.

Streaming on Shudder from 28th October.


Shudder’s 2019 documentary BLACK NOIRE: A HISTORY OF BLACK HORROR was a timely look at the representation of African-Americans and their portrayal in horror cinema through the years. Entertaining as it was informative it was an eye-opening look at the horror genre and its racist tropes and the bold strides it was now taking as black directors and writers were taking control of their own portrayals in a genre that often treated them poorly. A popular and critical accomplishment for Shudder it came as little surprise that they would capitalise on its success. Little surprise then that is exactly what they have done with this identically titled anthology film showcasing a number of upcoming writers and directors.


Sadly, these six tales stuffed together into one over long package carry next to none of the insight or even entertainment value that the documentary offered. These stories feel like they were originally intended for an anthology series but for whatever reason have been lumped together gracelessly here as if to dump it in the hope that it will not gather that much attention and swept under the rug, vanishing into obscurity among a vast streaming library.


The six stories, involving various doppelgangers, evil sigils, vampires and religious cults among others all carry a feeling of compromise that has been brought about by a miniscule budget more than anything else. The majority of the tales here depend on on a sting in the tale that also rely on a visual component aided by visual effects. The majority more often than not crash to a jarring halt with sudden cuts to black or actors reacting horrified to something off screen or obscured by darkness before we are launched into the next instalment with next to no warning. These constraints severely undermine the noble intentions of the storytellers at almost every turn. The majority of the stories have an intriguing hook but the storytelling carries a choppy feeling that the scripts have been hacked down to the bare minimum.


Running at twenty-five to thirty minutes, each story runs along with no recurring theme or connective tissue to link them together. Some make more of an impression more than others, most notably “Bride Before You” directed by Zandashe Brown and starring Lenora Critchlow as a lonely, wealthy wife in a post-Civil War America in a vast house that still relies on black servants. When a desired pregnancy is difficult to achieve the help of a “root woman” is asked for resulting in a tale that looks at the nations difficult past with slavery combined with a more familiar creature in the walls narrative. Keeping to that vein is Brand of Evil, a more up to date tale that looks at what price a man will sell his soul for when graphic designer Nekani decides to take on a well paying yet shadowy employer over the local welfare centre. These two tales feel like the only ones here that feel like they want to tackle the themes and issues that the documentary raised in such a compelling fashion.


An unfocused nature pervades over the rest of the film culminating in the concluding tale “Sundown” that closes out the film on a disappointing note. Viewers of LOVECRAFT COUNTRY will be familiar with the abhorrent concept of sundown towns which that show observed much more successfully than here. Instead, we are treated to a painfully unfunny and over-obvious vampire analogy that at times feels z-grade in every way. As a whole this overstuffed yet underdeveloped effort feels like a severely missed opportunity that deserved more care in bringing it to the screen.


Iain MacLeod.


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