film / tv / substack / social media / lists / web / celeb / pajiba love / misc / about / cbr
film / tv / substack / web / celeb

blackening-2023.jpg

Review: Scary Good ‘The Blackening’ Serves Up Hilariously Sharp Wit in Spades

By Melanie Fischer | Film | June 22, 2023 |

By Melanie Fischer | Film | June 22, 2023 |


blackening-2023.jpg

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A group of friends decides to rent a cabin in the woods for the weekend. They’re a pretty archetypal bunch. There’s the It girl Lisa (Antoinette Robertson), her on-again-off-again jock boyfriend Nnamdi (Sinqua Walls), gay best friend Dewayne (Dewayne Perkins, who also co-wrote the script), best girl friend Allison (Grace Byers), semi-reformed gangster King (Melvin Gregg), sharp-tongued party girl Shanika (X Mayo), and awkward outcast Clifton (Jermaine Fowler). The house they’ve rented seems like a great find—until they discover a creepy room in the back that was most certainly not mentioned in the listing. And the masked crossbow-wielding psycho looking to pick them off one by one.

Cabin-in-the-woods-set slasher movies are nothing new. In fact, they are so ubiquitous that horror comedies spoofing cabin-in-the-woods horror movies is a robust subgenre in itself (Cabin in the Woods, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, the list goes on). But The Blackening, directed by Tim Story (Fantastic Four, Think Like a Man) from a script co-authored by Perkins and Tracy Oliver (Girls Trip, Harlem) puts a fresh spin on a familiar formula by centering Blackness. While not the first horror parody in a distinctly post-Get Out vein (there was Justin Simien’s Bad Hair, for one), it’s the first one this reviewer has encountered that’s actually good. Not just kinda-sorta funny, guffawing, laugh-out-loud funny in a way that few comedy films in recent memory have managed to be.

One of the most compelling aspects of The Blackening is the way it’s for Black audiences, first and foremost. The film truly lives up to the promise of the tagline that dominates the poster: “We can’t all die first.” It’s not going to explain the jokes or teach you how to play Spades. Still, it’s also the kind of funny that travels even if you don’t understand every punchline, and for every highly specific cultural reference, there’s a gag with universal appeal (an O’Reilly Auto Parts bit is a real standout).

The Blackening is not here to try to define Blackness, because that’s kind of the point: Blackness is far from a monolith. When their masked tormenter forces the friends to play the titular racist board game with life or death stakes, every member of the group manages to think of reasons to point fingers at everyone else when asked to sacrifice the Blackest among them. Intriguingly, The Blackening, as silly as it often is, is actually able to explore the intricacies of the Black community with more complexity than a film like Get Out just by having a Black ensemble cast. There are inherent thematic limitations when dealing with a Black protagonist in a predominantly white space. It’s a dynamic that has dominated Black representation on screen for so long, and seeing a Black ensemble cast, especially in a truly well-made film, is both exciting and refreshing.

Does The Blackening still deal in tropes and stereotypes? Absolutely; it’s a parody, that’s how they work. But where the film, and particularly the script, really shines is in how it uses these stereotypes comedically—it avoids cheap gags; the stereotype is the set-up, not the pay-off. Perkins and Oliver’s smart comedic writing is also further elevated by an excellent ensemble cast with great chemistry and amazing comedic timing. All things combined, The Blackening is a treat for both horror and comedy fans well worth checking out on the big screen while you can; it’s best with a crowd.

The Blackening is now playing in theaters.