Thursday, June 15, 2023

The Blackening: Movie Review

Seven Black friends have gathered for a weekend reunion of games and fun at a remote cabin in the woods (at the end of the street on the left (I’m joking)). You know what happens next. Except you don’t because if we go by almost every horror movie ever made, the Black character dies first, but they can’t all die first. The Blackening’s promotional tag line and premise is fantastic. The humour and the main plot line are well established.   2023

Directed by: Tim Story

Screenplay by: Tracy Oliver, Dewayne Perkins

Starring: Antoinette Robertson, Grace Byers, Dewayne Perkins

After some quick introductions to each character to get the ensemble ready for action, the friends discover that they're locked in the house playing a sick game with a masked serial killer who is going to hunt them down one by one. One of the first games is, ‘Who is the Blackest?’ where right off the bat they all get to go after one another.

I’m highlighting the opening game because this is where all of the comedy comes in and all of the social stigmas and beliefs and a racial reckoning of sorts comes in. One character, named Clifton (Jermaine Fowler), gets mistakenly called Carlton because he’s Republican and nerdy exactly like Carlton Banks from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Biracial Allison (Grace Byers) gets referenced as Tracee Ellis Ross, who is famously biracial and made a TV show about it; King (Melvin Gregg) is a former gang member who married a White girl (and as another girl said, that makes him the Blackest); Nnamdi (Sinqua Wells) is constantly referred to as being from Africa until he argues back that he’s actually from Oakland and starts naming Ryan Coogler films. I’m skipping over some solid but perhaps less memorable and unique characters, but my favourite is Dewayne (Dewayne Perkins), he’s Black and gay and currently high off molly, and is absolutely delightful.

What should be clear from the previous paragraph is that there are a lot of fun characters, and a lot of pop culture references. I feel like I got many of them, but I would have to assume that horror buffs might catch even more.

The first act of the movie is really funny. The middle act has some solid action pieces, but can also be unsettling when the comedy has to meet the horror/action plot. It’s also really darkly lit. It does take place at night, but that’s also possible it’s on purpose as a sort of call-out to the frequent problem of cinematographers always having difficulty lighting Black actors.

I’m going to leave you with a potential spoiler, so stop reading now if you don’t want any hints. A common trope in TV and movies is that the most famous actor is always the killer. That holds true here; although, an interesting thing about this cast is that depending on where the audience knows them from that could lead you astray.

Have fun with The Blackening. The social/racial skewering is hilarious but underneath it does follow all the expected beats of a typical horror film, the only difference being is that there are more Black characters still alive than usual (i.e., more than none).

One example of a horror movie where the Black character doesn't die first:

  Fear Street Part One: 1994 (2021) - Selling nostalgia and slasher gore in an R.L. Stine mystery.