The Blackening review – Get Out meets Scary Movie in whipsmart horror satire | Horror films

Written by on June 17, 2023

There is an august tradition in the African American community of talking back to the film screen loud enough to jolt the characters on screen. The Blackening doesn’t just hear those cries; it needles its crowd for more reactions, bigger this time.

From Tim Story, the director of Fantastic Four and Ride Along, the film starts with a group of college friends reuniting at a creaky woodland cabin – replete with drinks, drugs and marathon games of Spades. Premiering at last year’s Toronto film festival, Story’s feature releases this weekend pegged to Juneteenth – the emancipation holiday marking its second year in federal observance.

Just when the love triangle between strait-laced Lisa (Dear White People’s Antoinette Robinson), fuckboy Nnamdi (House Party’s Sinqua Walls) and gay bestie Dewayne (the Emmy nominee Dewayne Perkins, who produced and co-wrote the film with Girls Trip’s Tracy Oliver) threatens to kill the vibe, half of the couple hosting the gala turns up dead (SNL’s Jay Pharoah); the fate of the other mate (Insecure’s Yvonne Orji) still hangs in the balance.

The only way the friends can save her is by playing the Blackening, like Life meets Saw but with the most racist Monopoly man you’ve ever seen – a talking sambo doll face. Trivia categories run the gamut from basic TV (How many seasons did “Dark Aunt Viv” get on the Fresh Prince?) to advanced hip-hop math (How many blunts are there on Nas’s One Mic?) When the contest turns on a trick question the friends become fair game for the slaughter.

The film’s fighting spirit is born from a recognizable brand of consciousness. Which is to say there is never a time when these Black people aren’t fully aware that they are in exactly the kind of situation that other Black people will scold them for getting into. Getting out of it means getting the small details right – down to turning a friend’s pistol grip from sideways to upright so the bullets actually hit the big bad. Having all Black characters just complicates the age-old genre problem of whom to kill off first, an idea Perkins first wrestled with in a 2018 sketch. Even Officer White (The Drew Carey Show’s Diedrich Bader) is hip to his particular dubiousness.

The friends still make plenty of mortal mistakes – splitting up, going to a second location and turning on one another even as the audience urges them otherwise. But the blunders are easily excused because the characters making them are smartly drawn. King (House Party’s Melvin Gregg) is the thug turned peacemaker “balls deep in the sunken place” (his partner is white, you see) who nonetheless came on this trip packing heat. Allison (Empire’s Grace Byers) is the biracial militant whose beef with The Man traces to the suspicions she harbors toward her actual white father. Shanika (The Farewell’s X Mayo) oscillates from turn-up queen to voice of reason and back again.

But the clear standout in this group is Clifton, the bespectacled two-time Trump voter some will strain to recognize as Jermaine Fowler – Coming 2 America’s heir aberrant. The time working with Eddie Murphy rubbed off on this character, a chip off the ol’ Jiff Ramsey. He stands in for the sheepish minority who have no idea how to play Spades, and no hope of learning from peers who treat the game as a cultural heirloom passed down only to the truly Black. Clifton’s response to that rejection is a strike for those at the cookout (ahem) who still don’t know how to play Spades – less a game of chance than of ESP, as The Blackening rightly makes clear. Never mind that most of us would be happy to exact revenge over a table of dominoes, still one of the easiest and most accessible games in the world.

As a horror The Blackening isn’t the scariest. But that’s not the point of this film – a Fubu satire smack in the sweet spot between Get Out and Scary Movie. Explicitly comic while stopping just short of slapstick, it’s a film best seen in a theater with a Black audience that will sing along with Allison as she struggles through the second verse of Lift Every Voice (AKA the Black national anthem). The filmgoers at my Atlanta screening were never howling more than when Dewayne randomly dropped into the jingle for O’Reilly Auto Parts, the most surprising entry on the universal Black factboard by far.

Where Michael Jackson’s Thriller and the Fugees’ Killing Me Softly With His Song winked at the very audience embracing them, The Blackening throws its arms around its crowd and squeezes hard. If you’re feeling at all frightened, it’s because you’re just not feeling the love.

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watch avatar the way of water full movie
watch avatar the way of water full movie

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