Black Horror is Front and Center in Latest Anthology: Horror Noire (2021)
Title: Horror Noire
First Non-Festival Release: October 28, 2021 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Joe West, Julien Christian Lutz, Zandashe Brown, Rob Greenlea, Robin Givens, Kimani Ray Smith
Runtime: 150 Minutes
Starring: Lesley-Ann Brandt, Tony Todd, Rachel True, Lenora Crichlow, Erica Ash
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Horror Noire is an anthology film presenting six short films from Black directors and screenwriters centered on Black horror. A woman finds herself facing a mysterious fate in “The Lake.” In “Brand of Evil” a young artist discovers the true horror behind his latest commission. “Bride Before You” drums up southern gothic pregnancy horror, telling the story of an aristocratic woman struggling to conceive. One couple finds themselves seduced by a mysterious and deadly cult in “Fugue State.” A father must fight his inner demon in “Daddy.” Lastly, a group of canvassers get stuck in the wrong town at night in “Sundown.”
Often plodding and confounding, the idea behind Horror Noire is more revolutionary than its final product.
Horror Noire works more in name than in practice. Each segment has its own culturally relevant topic they tackle. Black fatherhood in “Daddy”, modern versions of sundown towns in “Sundown”, and ethical business practices in “Brand of Evil” are all good examples. Aside from the latter short, none of these entries feel too on the nose, which is great for the topics they address. Thankfully, it seems that each film sets out to tell an interesting story before anything else, even if they drone on far longer than what is really needed per segment.
When averaged out, each director is given 20-25 minutes to work with and it is clear that each took their liberties with those 25 minutes. Aside from one or two segments, no short comes off as deserving of their engorged runtimes. It becomes a chore to sit through, particularly when it the action or dialogue gets clunky. “Fugue State” and “Bride Before You” are the most egregious offenders driving their interesting ideas into the ground well before their respective stories actually end.
It’s clear that the directors are working on a budget and that limits some of their creative choices. Each segment deals with unique struggles. Some bad make-up choices in “Brand of Evil” and “Fugue State” make for more laughable moments than scary. Sound issues also plague “Fugue State” and flat cinematography paints both it and “Daddy” as dull watches. Ill-conceived twists in “Bride Before You” and “Brand of Evil” could be constructed better. The entire film suffers from severe pacing issues. Each short is drawn out way too long and makes sitting through the entire thing a drag. Truthfully, the feature would be immensely improved if each short was cut to be less than 20 minutes.
There are plenty of positives here too. The cast is largely fine. Any awkward moments really come down to the material they are given to work with. Talent like Lesley-Ann Brandt, Tony Todd, and Rachel True do their best to elevate their stories to the next level with varying results. Its approach to straight horror with a few comedic twists makes Horror Noire a refreshing take on anthologies, where in recent history have focused on humor or the bizarre. The stories themselves are interesting despite not quite hitting all the right notes.
There is a great film beneath Horror Noire, but it is saddled by the weight of its stretched-out script. Out of all the shorts, “The Lake” is a solid starting flick anchored by Lesley-Ann Brandt’s presence and “Sundown” is a shot of adrenaline in an otherwise sleepy two-and-a-half hours. The rest of the shorts fall somewhere in between mediocre and forgettable. Horror Noire is by no means an awful film, merely one that doesn’t reach its full potential. I found myself wanting to like it more than I really did. Budgetary constraints rather than an absence of talent is the most likely culprit here. Anthology horror is notoriously difficult to get right and Horror Noire is worthy of a chance if you’ve streamed through your must watch list already.
Overall Score? 5/10