Review: Tim Story’s The Blackening is a movie that doesn’t hold back any punches, offering biting commentary on pop culture and the experience of being black. The film lacks in some technical departments, but it’s still a supremely funny effort.
The Blackening follows in the footsteps of a few of my favorite horror movies ever made. Scream not only tore apart the tropes of the horror genre back when it came out in 1996, it then relaced and tightened them up in a new fashion. It offered the idea that horror could comment on itself – satirizing without trashing in a usually trashy or pulpy genre.
And for decades, movies have tried to live up to that bar – Cabin in the Woods is probably the closest in terms of quality and effect. The Blackening is the latest, commenting on the new burgeoning plethora of filmmaking styles within the horror lane.
The movie follows a group of friends celebrating Juneteenth at a remote cabin *in the woods*. They’ve been friends since college but haven’t reconvened as together in quite some time. The players include (but are not limited to) the hilariously blunt King (Melvin Gregg), levelheaded Allison (Grace Byers), and a frighteningly off-putting Clifton (Jermaine Fowler).
When the group finds a notably racist and mysterious boardgame labeled The Blackening (sporting a derogatory depiction of a black man in the center), they’re forced to live out a nightmarish evening filled with games, chase sequences, and (of course) death.
The Blackening wears its influences on its sleeves, as nearly all movies do that work in this subgenre of horror comedy. It’s incredibly meta, often relying heavily on cultural references and the experiences of being black to find new corners that prior related films haven’t.
The Blackening feels unique because of a fresh perspective on cultural idiosyncrasies. It’s raw and unfiltered approach lends to some of the funnier moments I’ve seen in a horror movie this year. It works best as the group of friends begin to learn what’s expected of them by the game – starting with them having to answer a string of questions related to black culture in order to survive (like naming five black actors that guest starred in Friends, or explaining what NAACP stands for). It’s within these moments that I think the movie hits its jokes at the highest rate by shedding the feeling that it’s just another horror satire.
Those moments are when the movie runs at its smoothest pace, but The Blackening still occasionally feels uneven. Much of the successful comedy lands in the front half of the film, using a thick layer of sarcasm and angst to help develop likable and interesting characters. That wears off towards the second half as the movie transitions into a fractured narrative with several storylines going on at the same time.
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A few of the characters find themselves lost in the woods trying to hide from the masked killer stalking them. One of the friends – King (Melvin Gregg) – is shot with an arrow and forced to stay behind in the cabin and fend off the other assailant. It bounces between the two storylines, never fully standing out as the two narrative structures have been tried over and over again in the medium over the past half century.
I also thought that a few of the filmmaking elements fell off here, too. The third act is never quite as intense as the first two, instead using comedy to break or dismiss tension rather than reinforcing it. It also becomes much harder to physically see these scenes in the woods – the lighting in The Blackening isn’t always the strongest and it’s hard to gat past this as the movie hits its climax.
Regardless, The Blackening is still a lot of fun. Pulling off a horror comedy that is genuinely funny isn’t easy to do, and this movie lands the comedy part at a surprisingly high rate. Tim Story directs what is probably my favorite movie of his, and an original story with a few really strong and distinct elements.
Where to stream The Blackening: VOD
The Blackening Cast and Credits
Antoinette Robertson as Lisa
Sinqua Walls as Nnamdi
Dewayne Perkins as Dwayne
X Mayo as Shanika
Melvin Gregg as King
Grace Byers as Allison
Jermaine Fowler as Clifton
Yvonne Orji as Morgan
Jay Pharoah as Shawn
Diedrich Bader as Officer White
Director: Tim Story
Cinematography: Todd Dos Reis
Editor: Peter S. Elliot
Composer: Dexter Story
The Blackening movie on Letterboxd
The Blackening movie on IMDb