There are almost as many films that make fun of the conventions of horror as there are traditional horror films. It was fresh and smart 25 years ago when Scream became a cultural phenomena, but now anyone making the same statement has to dig a bit deeper. Tim Story, the director of Barbershop and Fantastic Four, has found an interesting perspective in The Blackening.
A group of friends get together for a reunion at a cabin in the woods on the weekend of Juneteenth. Amidst their celebrations, the lights go out, and while searching for a fix they find a room with a game in it called The Blackening. A mysterious figure appears on a screen and says the only way to save a captured friend is to sacrifice the person they believe is “The Blackest”. Unable to answer, they find themselves pursued by the killer, using their knowledge of horror movie tropes to keep themselves alive.
The film’s tagline “They Can’t All Die First” perfectly encapsulates the message Story is aiming for. Classic horror, as with many genres, had stereotyped black characters who were often the first to be killed. The excellent script has fun with this, as well as some well- intentioned jokes about African-American culture.
The concept of being ‘Black Enough’, with your identity being a pass/fail test from within your own community, is as fraught as the horror cliches the characters are evading. Mixing cinema trivia with cultural issues is a formula that works well, giving the film a propulsive quality that other horror movies would kill for.
The cast have a natural rapport that makes them believable as lifelong friends. Grace Byers is superb as Allison, who becomes the leader of sorts, and comedian X Mayo gets the biggest laughs as Shanika (volunteered by the group as the person who drops the N Bomb the most). Outside of the group, Diedrich Bader makes a fun appearance as the not-so-subtly named Ranger White.
The twist isn’t exactly a surprise, and the film certainly tends toward laughs more than scares, but to find something new in such a tired sub-genre (there are five Scary Movie films) is to be applauded.
While many horror satires are simply too silly to hold much value, The Blackening is a thoughtful look at the conventions of a genre while still managing to be entertaining and funny.