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The Blackening (A Movie Review)


Starring Grace Byers, Jermaine Fowler, Melvin Gregg, X Mayo, Dewayne Perkins, Antoinette Robertson, Sinqua Walls, Jay Pharoah, Yvonne Orji, Diedrich Bader and James Preston Rogers.

Screenplay by Tracy Oliver & Dewayne Perkins.

Directed by Tim Story.

Distributed by Lionsgate. 97 minutes. Rated R.

The Blackening starts with a fun and somewhat subversive premise. In horror films, the first person to be killed is almost always the Black person (usually quickly followed by the nerd and the slut.) But if the Black person is going to be the first victim, what will happen when all of the potential victims are Black?

Hmm, strange that Hollywood has never thought of that.

Does the killer try to figure out who is the “Blackest” person there? Or does he (or she, or they, or it) just kill in random order? Or does he take on the other aspects as his order, moving down the list looking for the male virgin, the girl who loves to party and the homosexual and building up to the sensitive jock and gorgeous-but-abstinent girl-next-door?

The Blackening is essentially in the format of a slasher film, but in general it’s not all that scary. (Even the killer’s weapon of choice – a crossbow – while unique for this type of film, has the tendency to neuter the grisliness of the killings.)

However, The Blackening is not really a horror film at all. It’s a comedy, one that is surprisingly smart, often much funnier than you would expect, pop-culture savvy and very, very comfortable in its own Blackness. This film is made for a Black audience, daring the Caucasians in the audience to just figure out some of the references for themselves – like, for example, the rules of the card game “Spades” and the lyrics to the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

Despite the fact that The Blackening refuses to patronize for a larger audience – or perhaps because of it – this film is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long time.

And that is coming from one of the Caucasians who is not really the film’s target audience. I’m sure I probably missed some of the references and in-jokes, but it doesn’t matter. So many of them hit squarely that knowing there are more in there which I may not have gotten just makes me even fonder of the film.

The storyline is pretty standard horror movie fare, although given an African American flare. Seven friends get together for a Juneteenth weekend outing at a remote cabin, looking forward to a weekend of drinking, partying and playing games.

The game that they are greeted by is the not-at-all subtly racist looking “The Blackening” – a board game that has a very old-fashioned racist image of a Black man at its center and asks such vaguely racial questions as “Name five Black actors who had a guest role on Friends.” And it says that if you get the answer incorrect, you will die.

Of course, the game doesn’t play fair. When they are finally able to come up with the Friends names, the game board insists that the real answer should have been that you were Black and have no idea about what happened on Friends.

They assume that they are in the hands of some white racists, hiding in the dark and wearing Blackface masks, and that’s kind of true, but not quite. In fact, there are only three white characters in The Blackening and they are all killed well before the climax. It turns out that there is something more ominous going on, forcing them to look at the dimensions and subtleties of race relations within the African American community.

Which may make this film seem like it was a philosophical treatise, but The Blackening was smart and funny enough that it never felt like preaching. This is a movie that knows what it is speaking of and has a hell of a good time doing it.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2023 All rights reserved. Posted: June 17, 2023.


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