Director Tim Story’s slasher-comedy The Blackening pits a group of black protagonists against a masked killer – and typical genre tropes.
Dewayne Perkins penned the film’s script alongside Tracy Oliver, basing it on his short film of the same name. The 2018 movie lampooned traditional horror tropes – which usually don’t end well for black characters – and its new, feature-length counterpart does the same. It can be a little bit light-handed with its horror elements, but ultimately it’s a fun watch fuelled by big performances and likeable characters.
The Blackening initially takes aim at the most common, obvious horror rules, cracking jokes about how Jada Pinkett Smith and her on-screen boyfriend were the first to die in Scream 2, and joking that it’s near impossible to think of a black character who survives a horror film. It’s an easy thing to take aim at, and thankfully The Blackening becomes smarter with its jokes from that point on.
We’re introduced to a group of college friends reuniting after ten years apart for Juneteenth. Allison (Grace Byers) travels with Lisa (Antoinette Robertson) and Dewayne (Dewayne Perkins also taking an acting role). They’re joined by Nnamdi (Sinqua Walls) and King (Melvin Gregg), Shanika (X Mayo) and Clifton (Jermaine Fowler) as they meet at a cabin in the woods. Classic.
They’re all big personalities, and every member of the cast gets to go wonderfully big with their performance. It’s established early on that many of the group have a complicated history, and as they bicker among themselves there are some amusing one liners thrown around with absolute glee. That continues throughout the film, regardless of the growing tension and the horror elements that creep in. It’s not lost on me that I’m not really the target audience for The Blackening, and so I can’t accurately comment on how the jokes would land for that audience, but the response in the screening I was in seemed very positive.
The seemingly idyllic cabin becomes sinister when they discover a games room that features a strange game – The Blackening. The game, in which a racist caricature demands the players ‘pick a card’ turns deadly as they have to answer questions centred on Black history and culture, or die. The film is good at building tension and the sense of time running out in these scenes, but it thankfully knows not to linger on them too much. The real fun lies in the group taking on the masked killer who’s masterminded it all.
There’s some good action in this, and the pacing is fast. It is at times, though, frustrating as well as fun. It makes fun of typically racist horror tropes, and has the characters try to overcome their situation by having inherent knowledge of them and what they should be doing in their situation. Despite this, the comedy often comes in the form of their incompetence resulting in disaster. They’re characters who know what they should theoretically be doing, and yet often simply don’t do it. Yes, the consequences of that can be funny, but it undermines the film’s self awareness a bit.
The frustration fades towards the end, when the characters take much more decisive action. It does, however, return when the big reveal at the end proves a disappointment. The stellar cast keeps The Blackening afloat through all of that, and ultimately it proves to be a fun watch. But horror fans should temper their expectations.
The Blackening is in cinemas now.
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