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‘The Blackening’ sees your Black horror stereotypes, then raises you laughter and satire

A group of Black friends heads to a cabin in the woods for some reunion fun. They all have to stay alive, right?

Lionsgate Pictures

Director Tim Story’s The Blackening is tailor-made for the communal theatrical experience. The precise and often comical dissection of the Black character in horror films is meant to be. The opening of 1997’s Scream 2 is one of the examples that I point to regarding Black characters not living past the opening title card (The Blackening also makes fun of this within its opening setup). It begs the question – what can the killer do if all the main characters are Black? This story contains many cultural aspects that speak directly to the Black experience in a genre that still has some ways to go regarding whose stories get to be told on screen.

Every horror film needs a setup, and that comes in the form of a couple named Shawn (Jay Pharoah) and Morgan (Yvonne Orji), who arrive to set up at a cabin ahead of their friends coming for Juneteenth weekend. They have some alone time, but in classic trope fashion, there are some bumps in the night. That leads them to a game room with a board game with the racist Sambo character at the center of it. It asks them if they want to play a trivia game. They clearly should turn away, but the film seeks to subvert things you’d expect.

From there, the first trouble happens ahead of our group of main characters arriving for the reunion. Given the characterization, each person brings their spin to the story. Allison (Grace Byers) comes from a biracial background, which is the butt of some jokes and is highlighted at different points in the film. Nnamdi (Sinqua Walls) and Lisa (Antoinette Robertson) are an on-again and off-again couple – primarily due to Nnamdi’s inability to stay faithful. This relationship rekindling comes to the dismay of Dewayne (played by the hilarious Dewayne Perkins), her gay best friend who she leaned on through it all. To round out the players, there’s King (Melvin Gregg), recently reformed and married a white woman, the life of the party, Shanika (X Mayo), and the prototypical nerdy and uncool Clifton (Jermaine Fowler).

The Blackening’s origins were born out of a Comedy Central sketch by 3PEAT. Sometimes, it’s tough to lengthen a short into a full-length feature without feeling like pieces are missing. Co-writers Perkins and Tracy Oliver elect to flesh out much of the characterization through just natural conversings before they go into the more slasher-oriented setups. Much of the film’s effectiveness is born through its comedic leanings more so than the suspense it draws from. While the group waits for Shawn and Morgan to come around, they play spades (and joke on Clifton as he doesn’t know how to play), mix liquor and Kool-Aid together, and are highly speculative about the lone white officer (Diedrich Bader) who makes some ignorant comments to them upon check-in.

Eventually, it’s time for the group to play the game, where the centrality of the comedic stylings comes into place. There are questions that the group has to answer: what is the other verse of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and noting when in “The Fresh Prince,” Aunt Viv switched actors. A question about “Friends” is a little on the weaker side, but a final one about defining who is the Blackest is a jump-off point for the significant turning point.

It’s not the scares that bring out why the Blackening is entertaining. There are standard scary movie setups with dark hallways, creaky doors, and hiding away from a masked killer. Instead, the quick jabs at films like Saw and Scream will make things worthwhile. Narratives like Get Out and the recent iteration of Candyman took on the heavier dynamics of racism within the social consciousness. The Blackening does this as well, but it’s more pointing its finger at the lazier tropes of horror and, at times, the lower-hanging fruit it goes after that you would expect. Given all the weighty topics being tackled, it’s refreshing to see lighthearted spoofs come back into the fold.