'The Blackening' review: Black horror troupes are skewered in hilarious satire
Courtesy of Lionsgate
The long running joke of how the Black person always dies first in a horror movie has been repurposed into a full length movie thanks to Tim Story’s “The Blackening,” a razor sharp satire that skewers slasher troupes while acting as an ingenious social commentary. Featuring plenty of nods and homages to “Scream,” and “Saw,” “The Blackening” assembles a hip cast of rising comedians to deliver the punchlines while they fend off a masked killer during a Juneteenth weekend getaway. Which, of course, is at a cabin in the middle of the woods, something the characters openly acknowledge. That self aware attitude is the guiding light of “The Blackening” wherein the characters are forced to confront their own “blackness” in various, life threatening ways and while the endgame is very predictable, the laughs come fast and loose.
The movie follows a group of young adults: Lisa (Antoinette Robertston), Dewayne (Dwayne Pekins), Nnamdi (Sinqua Walls), Allison (Grace Byers), Shanika (X Mayo), King (Melvin Gregg) and the goofy/creepy outlier Clifton (Jermaine Fowler) as they become entangled in a game of cat-and-mouse after discovering a board game dubbed The Blackening in the cellar. Picture a demented version of “Jumanji,” where the mascot is made to resemble someone donning blackface. The squad is forced to adhere to the rules of the game or risk immediate death by hand of a crossbow wielding psycho, which means answering a series of questions surrounding Black culture. One prompt asks the group to name five Black actors who appeared on “Friends,” another demands they recite the African-American national anthem without missing a word. And the results and groupthink discussion that transpired are nothing short of hilarious.
Co-writers Robertston and Perkins both lean in and subvert the conventions around Black folks in the horror genre and Story keeps the pace tight while never sacrificing the film's savvy authenticity. It’s a refreshing change of pace considering the barrage of meta comedies that have suddenly elbowed their way into the forefront of cinematic conversations without having much to say other than how tongue-and-cheek they are. “The Blackening” isn’t completely removed from that mindset, and some of the jokes whiff in the moment, but on the whole the script comes equipped with a reliable slate of jabs at icons like Jordan Peele, the horror troupe of “splitting up,” and a well timed name drop of the former president. The cast of comedians also help smooth over the absurdity of their situation with Fowler’s Clifton providing the best form of comedic relief.
“The Blackening” doesn’t break new ground, but deserves to be lumped into the same praise The Wayne. Bros enjoyed during the early “Scary Movie” days. Like that movie of the time, “The Blackening” has a certain freshness the feels of the moment. It probably won’t age the best, though we’ll look back fondly at how it understood the issues and never forgot to make us laugh. See it with the biggest audience you can find.
THE BLACKENING opens in theaters everywhere Friday June 16th.