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‘The Blackening’ (review)

In most horror films, it can feel like people of color are shoehorned in as a throwaway death or comic relief.

In The Blackening, racial and horror tropes combine for a bitingly funny satire of the genre, and the many jokes we make to each other when watching on the couch.

Everything about the movie is decidedly Black, to the point that some jokes may go over the head of audiences that were not invited to the cookout. But for those of us with a lifetime pass, the laughs are full even though the scares are light.

The Blackening follows a group of nine Black friends who decide to gather for Juneteenth weekend at a cabin in the woods. A search for their missing hosts turns up a creepy board game that forces them to prove their Blackness or lose their lives.

We all like to say that we would know what to do in a horror movie, and now that armchair knowledge is put to the ultimate test.

The tagline for the film claims “We all can’t die first,” referencing a 2018 3Peat comedy sketch written by Dewayne Perkins (who also co-wrote and stars in the film) that centered around the fact that Black people generally die first in horror films.

Several years later, it has expanded into a feature that keeps all the flavor and authenticity of the original sketch. The first 20 minutes are a bit heavy on setting the scene, leaning on low-hanging fruit like prolific use of the N-word and overreaction to clapbacks to establish the “Blackness” of the characters.

At the time, it felt almost lazy but the payoff in clever takes later in the movie was worth the initial awkwardness.

As the self-awareness of being the Black “stars” of a scary movie ramps up, so do the laughs. The friends openly talk about what to do and not do, conjuring Scream vibes, but with the added weight of race in the decision-making process.

Just like in life, people of color have fewer chances to make it out alive if they make the wrong decision but find a sense of gallows humor in the entire situation. It is never serious enough to stop the side comments, even as they are on the verge of being murdered. There are precious few actual frights, but being Black in a horror setup is scary enough.

At one point, bougie but friendly Lisa (Antoinette Robinson) starts to say “We should split up” but can barely get the words out as she dry heaves at the thought of even suggesting it. It comes back when one of the few white characters asks where the others are, and upon hearing they split up immediately responds “What? But…you’re Black.”

This type of self-referential humor where you know that you may have to recount these decisions and prove you made the Black culture-approved choice adds a level of representation that will have audiences yelling at the screen in a good way.  There’s a bracing honesty in the monochromatic cast that mirrors how people of color let their hair down when they are not in mixed company.

When they are trapped in the game room and forced to give up the “Blackest” among them, the hilarious confessions range from watching white sitcoms to voting for Trump to a suggestion of turning over the only African in the bunch because he is a “still-in-its-original-packaging” Black.

The Blackening is clearly targeted towards a specific audience, but the humor will hit with anyone who has yelled at their television when the main character decides to independently investigate what that strange noise is in the basement. These characters already know to mind their own business and turn up the radio.

*  *  *  *  *
Produced by Tim Story, Tracy Oliver, E. Brian Dobbins,
Marcei A. Brown, Jason Clark, Sharla Sumpter Bridgett

Written by Tracy Oliver Dewayne Perkins
Based on The Blackening by 3Peat
Directed by Tim Story 
Starring Grace Byers, Jermaine Fowler, Melvin Gregg, X Mayo, Dewayne Perkins,
Antoinette Robertson, Sinqua Walls, Jay Pharoah, Yvonne Orji

 

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