The horror/comedy/satire can be a difficult balance to maintain. If it is too violent, too goofy, if the message is too vague or blunt, it won’t work. The differing tones have to mix well or the whole thing is in danger of collapsing under its own weight. The Blackening has a fantastic concept, ripe for viciously skewering horror conventions, a cast game for anything and a screenplay not afraid to make fun of whatever the writers could think of. Do the jokes, murders and social commentary fit together? Fortunately, the answer is yes.
The Blackening (93 minutes, without the end credits) solves the conundrum of balance by being far more of a broadly satirical comedy than a horror movie. It plays on genre cliches and includes a handful of jump scares, but that stuff is mostly in service of the jokes. It never gets overly bloody, with its violence largely being played for laughs. The most important thing is that it is funny. The characters are stereotypes, yet they are intentionally that way so they can be used to take shots at those stereotypes. The opening section up until their nightmare begins is a little too long and there are definitely a few too many scenes involving characters slinking around in the dark. However, The Blackening’s main goal is to entertain and, perhaps, get viewers to think about the way blackness is portrayed in media. It does those things pretty successfully.
A group of old friends gather for a reunion/Juneteenth party at a remote cabin in the woods. When they stumble upon a racist boardgame, they are forced to answer questions to prove their blackness or be killed by a masked maniac.
The poster, featuring its core black cast and the tagline “We can’t all die first,” is brilliant for multiple reasons. We immediately know it is sending up the trope that black characters always die first in horror movies. It establishes the tone, the cast and the way the material is going to be approached. It is outstanding advertising. The fact that the movie lives up to what we probably expected when looking at it is kind of amazing. It shows that the filmmakers had a clear idea of what they wanted this to be and were able to stick to it throughout.
The cast is a big part of why this works and they each have several funny moments. The premise is horror-based, so they all are introduced with a couple of obvious traits that are then mocked and turned upside down. The highlights are Dewayne Perkins (who cowrote the screenplay) as Dewayne, a gay man comfortable in his own skin, Melvin Gregg as King, a reformed gangster, and Grace Byers as Allison, a biracial woman whose racial identity is constantly being called into question. The way Perkins and Tracy Oliver’s screenplay uses their personal/group histories to satirize horror and different types of media portrayals of black people is very clever.
The Blackening is likely best experienced in a packed theater, but its gags and pointed satire works well enough even if you are watching alone (which I more or less was). Though my biggest concern coming in was that race itself would act as the punchline, that is not at all the case. As over the top as this is, it rarely stops at surface level humor. Not everything lands and there are some slight pacing issues (potentially lethal for comedy). Still, it is consistently enjoyable, smart in its ridiculousness and I laughed a lot. Look up the poster. If you find it at least mildly amusing, the full thing is even better.
3½ out of 5
Antoinette Robertson as Lisa
Dewayne Perkins as Dewayne
Grace Byers as Allison
Melvin Gregg as King
Sinqua Walls as Nnamdi
X Mayo as Shanika
Jermaine Fowler as Clifton
Directed by Tim Story
Written by Tracy Oliver and Dewayne Perkins