Directed by: Tim Story
Premise: A group of Black friends reunite at an isolated cabin for a weekend. They discover a racially-themed board game that is somehow connected to a killer stalking them throughout the house.
What Works: The horror genre has been accused of mistreating its Black characters by prematurely killing off those people first. Whether that’s true or not is debatable—and it is especially debatable whether horror is unique in its disregard for Black characters—but the belief in the trope that Black characters die first is a persistent one in the culture. The Blackening is built around that idea and the better parts of the movie satirize aspects of Black culture, entertainment, and the horror genre. The film is clearly influenced by the Saw series but it also descends from Get Out. There are a few funny and provocative exchanges between the characters as they debate aspects of Black culture and identity.
What Doesn’t: The Blackening is stuck between parody and satire. In some respects the movie aspires to the original Scream in the way it knowingly relies on genre conventions and audience expectations. But the movie also frequently plays like one of the early Scary Movie parody films. That tension is especially evident in Jermaine Fowler’s performance as a nebbish outcast mistakenly invited to the party. Comedy and horror can work together but in this case the two parts of the film are at odds with each other. Comedic violence is usually absent of pain whereas the violence of horror is almost always painful; that’s what gives horror its gravitas. The tone of the comedy is off and frequently undermines the credibility of the horror. The internal logic of the story is similarly strained. Characters get seriously injured and then carry on and some aspects of this film don’t fit together. The Blackening begins as a story of supernatural evil with the characters encountering a board game that apparently talks back to them. The film then becomes something else as the characters are stalked by a mysterious killer. The connection between the game and the killers doesn’t make much sense. The film’s message is also muddled. The Blackening positions itself as a commentary on the quality of Black characters in horror films and on Black identity in general but the picture doesn’t say much about any of that. It’s not subversive or revelatory. The film is lit very poorly. Black actors are habitually underlit in Hollywood films but virtually nothing is adequately illuminated in The Blackening. The action is hard to follow because the imagery is so murky.
Bottom Line: The Blackening plays as a Saturday Night Live skit extended to a feature length. The film is neither funny enough nor scary enough.
Episode: #954 (June 25, 2023)