Blackening, The (United States, 2022)

June 19, 2023
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Blackening, The Poster

As horror/comedies go, The Blackening is one of the better ones. A satire in the same vein as Scary Movie, it uses barbed satire to skewer a host of horror movie tropes but does so with a specific perspective. Beneath all the gags, jokes, and one-liners, The Blackening dissects not only the role of Black characters in horror movies but the perception of Black viewers of those characters. A secondary concept addressed by the Tracy Oliver & Dewayne Perkins screenplay is how White people perceive the concept of “Blackness” – a characteristic that inevitably emerges in horror movies. Although similar in some ways to Get Out, The Blackening leans more toward comedy than horror. No one is going to be scared by anything in this movie. The gory scenes are designed for comedic value (think Marvin in the car in Pulp Fiction). The characters are all paper-thin types. And the laughs are as rapid-fire as anything this side of a ZAZ (Zucker-Abrams-Zucker) movie.

The setup is simple, as befits a film of this sort. Seven old college buddies reunite in an isolated house in the middle of the woods. Lisa (Antoinette Robertson) is the poised central character. She is surrounded by Dewayne (Dewayne Perkins), her gay best friend; Nnamdi (Sinqua Walls), her past and now-current boyfriend; Allison (Grace Byers), who pops one Adderall too many; Shanika (X Mayo), who doesn’t take shit from anyone, including a killer; King (Melvin Gregg), a reformed gangster; and Clifton (Jermaine Fowler), the nebbish outsider who voted for Trump…twice. These seven spend time chatting and playing games until they stumble upon a “game room” whose sinister centerpiece is something called “The Blackening.” Once they start playing, they discover that things are in deadly earnest. Their adversary is a man in a black mask with an aptitude for using a crossbow. The objective is to survive but the odds are stacked against them. And when it comes to giving up one of them to earn the others a reprieve, Clifton is the obvious sacrificial lamb.

Most of the humor is accessible irrespective of race and the points being made are intended to be broadly understood. The Blackening has a lot of fun playing with just about every horror cliché imaginable. The filmmakers came in with a checklist and made sure every item made its way into the movie at least once. Like the protagonists in Scream, these characters are self-aware and talk as if they realize they’re in a horror movie, referencing things they should and shouldn’t do (like split up) and acknowledging how the script is laid out. The film’s wit remains intact for entirety of the running time. That’s in part because the movie clocks in at a little over 90 minutes, which is the perfect length. (Be sure to stay partway through the credits – arguably the best sight gag happens then.)

The director is Tim Story, whose long and diverse career (which started with music videos before transitioning to feature films) wouldn’t necessarily prepare viewers for his work here. But he is in complete control, shows a strong sense of comedic timing, and keeps the energy level high. One open question is whether the “horror” aspect could have been a bit stronger. The Blackening is a flat-out satire from frame #1, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a breath of fresh air in what has become a very stale multiplex atmosphere.

Blackening, The (United States, 2022)

Director: Tim Story
Cast: Antoinette Robertson, Dewayne Perkins, Sinqua Walls, Grace Byers, X Mayo, Melvin Gregg, Jermaine Fowler
Home Release Date: 2023-08-22
Screenplay: Tracy Oliver & Dewayne Perkins
Cinematography: Todd A. Dos Reis
Music: Dexter Story
U.S. Distributor: Lionsgate
Run Time: 1:35
U.S. Home Release Date: 2023-08-22
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Gore, Profanity, Drugs)
Genre: Comedy/Horror
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1