"The Blackening" stars Grace Byers, Jermaine Fowler, Melvin Gregg, X Mayo, Dewayne Perkins, Antoinette Robertson, Sinqua Walls, Jay Pharoah, and Yvonne Orji. Releasing on June 16, 2023, the film has a group of friends encountering a twisted game created by a masked killer.
The film is directed by Tim Story, who also directed films such as "Barbershop", "Think Like a Man", "Ride Along", and "Tom & Jerry". It is based on the 2018 short film by the improv comedy troupe 3Peat. One of the tropes we see in most horror films is that the African-American character always dies first, whether from a serial killer or a supernatural threat. For some reason, Hollywood has this ridiculous idea of making an antagonistic murderer racist by having them go after a dark-skinned person before hunting the group of white people. It seemed harmless at first, but nowadays, it's making us think that these killers have some serious issues with race. But what if there's a horror film where a group of victims doesn't have one African-American character but all of them? What if there's a scenario where a masked killer has to decide which African-American character bites the dust first? The answer to those questions is in the form of the satirical horror comedy by filmmaker Tim Story. Amid the superhero nostalgia and anthropomorphic elements, we have a piece of counterprogramming seeking to provide adult audiences with a mixture of frights and chuckles and a comical examination of this worn-off trope. Are they enough to prevent the movie from getting killed off first amid the other counterprogramming options? Let's find out.
The story follows a group of friends, including Allison (Byers), Clifton (Fowler), King (Gregg), and Dewayne (Perkins). They traveled to a remote cabin in the woods for the Juneteenth weekend, hoping for a great reunion. Unfortunately, what they get instead is an unnerving nightmare when they discover a secret room with a twisted board game called "The Blackening". The game is run by a mysterious masked killer who demands the group to rank their degrees of blackness to determine the order to kill them. With their lives and friendship in danger, Allison and the others must rely on their smarts and knowledge of horror movie tropes to survive.
Horror movies nowadays can be easily called out for their tried-and-true formulas, especially when they involve people in the cabin in the woods. However, some deserve plenty of credit for successfully handling their intriguing ideas within their basic premises, providing refreshing and entertaining perspectives on their genre tropes. "The Blackening" looks to be another example of this trend by filling its group of victims with only black people. After all, why kill one when you can murder all of them? Having a mixture of horror and satirical comedy can be tricky to pull off, especially when you're using specific topics that may be sensitive to particular audiences. In this case, we have a film that satirizes African-American culture, including the characters in horror movies and stereotypes. This idea could be a red flag for the culture if done poorly. Fortunately, "The Blackening" had little to no issues pulling this feat off with a refreshing and consistently hilarious horror comedy that's more entertaining than derivative.
"The Blackening" is another typical cabin-in-the-woods slasher film involving victims getting chased by a crossbow-wielding psychopath wearing a blackface leather mask. I wish I were joking when I said that. So it plays out the way you'd expect from the marketing. However, the film leaps over most of its horror tropes to provide an ironic and unapologetic exploration of African-American culture and traditions, including stereotypes and cultural prejudice. Unlike most modern horror films, it doesn't focus on putting on a show with senseless violence, gore, and one-dimensional characters. Instead, the movie gives audiences like me an invigorating perspective on the cabin-in-the-woods concept that's also filled with characters that are actually fun and supportive. If you have characters like Allison and Dewayne in your film, there's a good chance your audience will have as much fun as them.
Tim Story may not have a lot of great movies in his filmography, save for "Barbershop" and his Kevin Hart stand-up comedy films. However, he usually succeeds in giving his target audience what they want regarding talent, comedy, and entertainment values, even if some of his movies fell flat in their execution. Luckily, "The Blackening" has Story in top form with his best direction in a while. Considering its humorous concept, it was fitting for Tim Story to be chosen to helm this film, but what really makes him a solid filmmaker is his balance of comedy, horror, and commentary. Story offers plenty of energy into the film's satirical dynamic for the characters and the scenarios they're in. However, he also refrains from leaning into "spoof" territory with less substance and more crude parody jokes. There were even a few scenes that looked like they could've come from a horror spoof film like "Scary Movie", but they're more hilarious than obnoxiously dumb.
But, of course, it wasn't just Tim Story that did most of the work. He got significant help from the movie's sharp-witted screenplay by Dewayne Perkins and Tracy Oliver, known for co-written films like "Barbershop: The Next Cut" and "Girls Trip". It provided plenty of hysterical dialogue involving black culture between the characters, but it also portrayed them as sympathetic human beings who tend to poke fun at themselves often. Additionally, the script subverts most familiar tropes to prevent itself from losing steam halfway through. Some of its jokes can be admittedly on the nose regarding the context, but they're hilarious enough to help the movie survive its demise.
The film's entertaining characters benefited enormously from the cast. Almost all the actors had a chance to shine in their moments, and not a single second was wasted. Grace Byers and Jermaine Fowler were delightful as Allison and Clifton, respectively, especially the latter for the one joke we saw in the trailer. X Mayo also delivered a few good moments as Shanika, as did Dewayne Perkins as Dewayne. While I may not be familiar with some of the actors involved, they provide enough talent to maintain my interest in them for their upcoming roles.
Overall, "The Blackening" is a hilarious, clever, and unapologetic take on the fundamental cabin-in-the-woods storyline that's fun enough to avoid getting killed first. Some of its jokes and genre tropes were on the nose regarding its subject matter. Thankfully, they're quickly overshadowed by the film's ability to provide entertainment in its horror, comedy, and insightful commentary without preaching too much about the latter. Thanks to its delightfully charismatic cast, Tim Story's solid direction, well-written screenplay, and great comedy, "The Blackening" is a bloody good time at the movies that's also a step above the other cheap and formulaic horror films we've seen in recent years. This is the type of game that's worth playing if you enjoy horror comedies and some of Tim Story's previous works.