Clever, Witty, And Unquestionably Black, ‘The Blackening’ Is A Newly-Minted Classic – Review
When we first heard of Get Out, most of us (unfairly) assumed it would be a wacky horror spoof from the Key & Peele guy. Little did we know that the Daniel Kaluuya-starring breakout hit would be an intense genre-bending thriller with profound thematic implications and merely a couple of chuckles to cut the tension. The Oscar-winning horror flick signalled a new rise of Ethnogothic cinema, paving the landscape for movies like Nia DeCosta’s Candyman, Remi Weekes’s His House, the Chris Rock-written Jigsaw and the Jordan Peele-produced Wendell and Wild, amongst countless others. Now, we have the clever and funny horror-comedy The Blackening.
But after seeing our people fighting for their lives on-screen over the past few years, we are overdue a bit of relief. And just in time for Juneteenth, the new Lionsgate film The Blackening fills that void.
The Blackening is genuinely the funniest movie I’ve seen so far this year. The Tim Story-directed comedy is a zany dismantling of slasher tropes, past and present. The movie plays a perfect balancing act, supplying humor that’s universal for horror fans and super specific for Black moviegoers.
Right off the rip, the film begins with some extratextual references to iconic moments from the Scream and Saw franchises. But despite the familiar “friend group lodging in an eerie log cabin in the woods” set-up, it quickly becomes apparent that The Blackening is less of a scary movie and more of a Scary Movie. The scares are subbed out for quick-witted racial commentary about colorism, anti-Blackness, and pop culture.
Director Tim Story, best known for Barbershop, Ride Along, and the 2000s Fantastic Four movies, composes a lively comedy that breathes new life into the spoof horror landscape. The 96-minute runtime flies by in a breeze, as the biting comedy couples nicely with the somewhat prediction scares. As subversive as much of the premise is, a few of the mystery is relatively easy to guess.
The movie’s real surprise is how the storytellers effectively tap into the cultural zeitgeist. The dialogue packs so many current Twitter conversations inside the script that it feels like you’re scrolling through the timeline in real life. Similar to the underrated A24 sleeper Bodies Bodies Bodies, The Blackening feels more “of the moment” than anything I’ve seen recently.
Blackening was co-written by Girls Trip scribe Tracy Oliver and Emmy-nominated writer/comedian Dewayne Perkins, who stars in the ensemble alongside Antoinette Robertson (Netflix’s Dear White People), Sinqua Walls (Hulu’s White Men Can’t Jump), Jermaine Fowler (Coming 2 America), Grace Byers (Empire), Melvin Gregg (House Party), X Mayo (American Auto), Yvonne Orji (Insecure) and Jay Pharoah (SNL). The cast may not be the biggest marquee names, but they all shine in hysterical belly-grabbing moments.
With Mr. Perkins penning the script, his character (also named Dewayne) naturally serves several zesty looks and one-liners. Fowler’s performance as the stammering, awkward character named Clifton was a clear standout, but my favorite character was Allison – played by Grace Byers. Initially, her role seemed like the ditzy, biracial girl in the squad. But her character grew on me after a hysterical rendition of the Black National Anthem and an absurd drug trip sequence.
There aren’t many Juneteenth-set movies, but now The Blackening will sit firmly at the top of my annual holiday watch list. With the tagline “We can’t all die first,” the flick lives up to its promise, delivering an excellent meta-horror comedy where every character has a spotlight moment. Like most of my older cousin’s wardrobe, this flick is FUBU through and through. Clever, witty, and unquestionably Black, The Blackening is a newly-minted classic that needs to be watched with a crowd. The theater I saw it in was riotous the entire movie. I’m already excited to buy another ticket this weekend.