Watch Of The Week: The Blackening
The promotional line for The Blackening is so good – “We can’t all die first” – there was reason to fear the movie couldn’t live up to it. Yet like other self-referential horror/comedies (the Scream franchise comes to mind), the film ably delivers on its premise, mining enough life from its satirical concept to deliver plenty of crowd-pleasing moments. If the idea sounds like a comedy sketch, that’s exactly how it began, the creation of comedian Dewayne Perkins, who blew that up into a feature script with Tracy Oliver (Girls Trip) handed over to director Tim Story (Barbershop).
The small scale – with practically all the action taking place in a remote cabin in the woods – actually works to the movie’s advantage. That tight focus allows the story to consciously flesh out characters usually given short shrift in traditional horror fare, where, yes, people of colour are often early casualties. The simple set-up doesn’t waste much time, with a group of former college friends getting together for a 10-year reunion that doubles as a Juneteenth celebration.
They’re toting with them a fair amount of baggage, including past relationships and strained friendships, all of which will be put to the test by having a faceless maniac trying to kill them. Faster than you can say, Jumanji, the stumble upon a game, which the unseen attacker forces them to
play. Beyond creating a sense of jeopardy, the questions evoke opportunities to riff on all sorts of minutiae, from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air trivia to whether anybody will admit to having watched Friends.
They also drop plenty of wry horror references, whether that’s Get Out or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The cast includes Grace Byers (“Empire”), Jermaine Fowler, Melvin Gregg, X Mayo, Dewayne Perkins, Antoinette Robertson, and Sinqua Walls, and they generally appear to be having a ball playing off each other. Yet there’s also something pointed in the underlying notion that an all-Black core group highlights how race has played a subtle and not-so-subtle role in movie conventions across the decades.
While not overdoing the gore, Story wisely includes enough horror elements to conjure tension amid the laughs, recognizing that horror, more than comedy, has been one of the most durable genres at the box office since the pandemic began. Throw in the movie’s modest budget, and it’s not hard to envision The Blackening emerging as a sleeper success among the tall trees of summer blockbusters – potentially not just surviving but thriving, which, given the movie’s central conceit, would surely be the sweetest revenge of all.