0
9

POSITIVES
  • Terrific subversive comedy
  • Great chemistry among cast
  • Solid horror thrills
NEGATIVES
  • Bad juxtaposition between Juneteenth celebration and irreverent tone

“The Blackening” is a near-perfect, irreverent horror-comedy just in time to kick off the Juneteenth weekend. It’s also one of the best comedies of the year.

Synopsis

The Blackening centers around a group of Black friends who reunite for a Juneteenth weekend getaway only to find themselves trapped in a remote cabin with a twisted killer. Forced to play by his rules, the friends soon realize this ain’t no motherf****** game.

Review
One of the main gripes black audiences can have about horror films nowadays involves two questions: “Who’s the token black character?” and “At what point do they die?” The answer to the second question is either within the first 15 minutes, or (if given grace) 30 minutes. Bringing a personal story to the table, I got one even worse. About a decade ago, I sat in a theatre with my group of my friends (yes, for context, we are all black) watching a trailer for David R. Ellis’ final film “Shark Night”. At some point within the trailer, the token black friend wakesurfs as the “main white characters” steer the boat then the “monster” of the fil comes up from behind and drags the black friend to the bottom of the lake, thus setting the precedent of what this horror film will be. Me, incredulously baffled, turned to one of my friends and said “Damn, we can’t even live through a trailer!” This is the basis for Tim Story’s effective, irreverent comedy “The Blackening”. A group of black college friends reunite for a Juneteenth weekend getaway – there’s nostalgia in the air, friendship, broken-hearted love…and a twisted killer that wants to play a killer game with this group. Only leaving one question to be asked: when the whole cast of a horror film is black, who dies first?

“The Blackening” excels in its irreverent, sharp writing. The script, helmed by co-actor/producer Dewayne Perkins (who co-created the original short off which the film is based) and Tracy Oliver, the comedic mind behind “Girls Trip” and the series “Harlem”, tackles its horror tropes and stereotypes regarding token black horror characters with gusto and confidence. Every creaked open door is abruptly closed shut, every unsuspecting dark hallway is immediately averted….basically every single “trap” a black audience member will roll their eyes at is avoided, effectively (and hilariously) raising the stakes of who survives the night. The tense night itself revolves around a game called “The Blackening” that the characters are forced to play, its main centerpiece resembling the racial blackface that was used to depict blackness back in the day – red lips, shiny whites and all. The unfortunate players: Lisa (Antoinette Robinson), a lawyer; Nnamdi (Sinqua Walls), her cheating ex-boyfriend whom she still has feelings for; Dewayne (Dewayne Perkins), the gay best friend; King (Melvin Gregg), the reformed thug-turned-intellectual; the outrageous, life of the party Shanika (X Mayo); outspoken friend Allison (Grace Byers) and awkward, nerdy outcast Clifton (Jermaine Fowler). Usually, with an ensemble like this, you would expect one to shine over the other or at least have a weak link here or there. This film has the unicorn-like benefit of each of its cast members bringing it home and nailing every wisecrack, facial gesture, and reoccurring gag perfectly.

The success of a film like “The Blackening” depends on the energy return of its audience. Even though its intended audience is black, this film gives about as much hilarious energy as it gets back. This film, while funny on any given day, is best experienced in a group or in a packed house. The best comedies of recent years (The Hangover, Bridesmaids, Game Night, etc) work great in a packed house of moviegoers ready to laugh and to engage. Every “what are you doing?” and “don’t go in there, fool” is felt when experiencing this with an engaged audience. Tim Story, no stranger to directing successful comedies (Barbershop, Ride Along, etc), shows that he has a capable hand at also delivering horror thrills. Solid gore (comedic and horrifying) is depicted well and the film has a balanced hand at delivering solid horror to balance with its great comedy. One criticism one would have with this film however would be its “unapologetically blackness” both playing to and against its creation (or point). The fact that this film is set over a “Juneteenth celebration” coupled with the other fact that the “N-word” is said so blatantly at many times throughout the film may make one or two of the most rigid black comedy apologists squirm just a tad. Let me clarify: the N-word being said in any black comedy to me is not an issue, it’s just a bit cringey when it’s said in a film related to the celebration of a holiday where our people who were called a more incisive version of that word were officially emancipated. But again, it’s an “irreverent comedy” so this sin is mostly forgiven.


Closing Thoughts
“The Blackening” knocks it out of the park as a great horror-comedy in the vein of classics like “Scary Movie 1 & 2” (the only “Scary Movies” that matter!). A great, game cast paired with a hilarious script and seamless directing makes this the best comedy of the year so far. Subverting horror tropes and stereotypes brings this wild, fun ride to a solid (if slightly predictable) conclusion. The bottom line here is that Hollywood needs more smart comedies like this, those willing to flip the narrative and give voice to those who are usually marginalized or relegated to just playing the role of the token black character or just the final girl or just the hot girl. When we lean into characters who don’t have much of a voice to begin with, we then can see potential for deeper, more layered versions of storytelling. And more original films churned from the Hollywood machine.


Trailer

Blak Cinephile
Blak Cinephile is a cinephile who both loves film and loves to write/talk about it. He has a genuine respect for the art of cinema and has always strived to find the line between insightful subjectivity and observant objectivity while constructing his reviews. He believes a deeper understanding (and a deeper love) of cinema is borne through criticism.

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