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The Blackening

“We can’t all die first” is an excellent tagline perfectly fulfilled by Tim Story's "The Blackening," an ode to horror parodies like “Scary Movie.” This film’s comedy, characters, and commentary will be hilarious to all audiences but scratch a familiar itch among Black viewers. Of all of the film-watching customs within the Black community, shouting at and ridiculing horror movie characters for their ludicrous decision-making is integral, as is the expectation that we won’t see our people live until the end. It’s what inspired the title of Jordan Peele’s “Nope” and much of the “Scary Movie” franchise, but “The Blackening” takes nuggets of its predecessors and makes something entirely singular.

Built on the 2018 Comedy Central short film by comedy trio 3Peat (of which co-writer Dewayne Perkins is a member), "The Blackening" follows a group of old college friends reuniting for a Juneteenth celebration at a cabin in the woods. After catching up and a few games of Spades, they find themselves in the clutches of a killer. With only their street smarts and knowledge of Black culture to get them through, what ensues is a riotous culture cry of a film. 

Central to their cat-and-mouse debacle is the film’s titular board game, The Blackening (which features a racist Sambo in its center), which everyone must play to survive. If they can answer its questions—such as how many seasons “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” had a dark skin Aunt Viv or name five Black actors who guest starred on “Friends”—they’ll be granted a few extra minutes of survival. But once the questions run out, the movie turns to full-fledged slasher territory.

From a “Scream”-esque cold open to a televised game master reminiscent of “Saw,” “The Blackening” wears its horror influences on its sleeve. The script (co-written by Perkins and Tracy Oliver of “Girl’s Trip”) is beyond hysterical, jam-packed with punchlines and wordless moments of physical comedy alike. Violence is played here more for laughs than scares, but there’s certainly bloodshed to be had amidst tense chase scenes and brawny faceoffs.

The cast has incredible chemistry that motivates not only the movie's fear but its comedy as well. There’s not a weak link to be found, but Dewayne (Dewayne Perkins), the gay best friend of the film’s most central character, Lisa (Antoinette Robertson), is consistently its humor and heart. Upon discovering that Lisa is hooking up with her serially unfaithful college ex, Nnamdi (Sinqua Walls), Dewayne is angry and defensive but hurt. This triangle of distrust creates a secondary plot, contributing not only empathetic beats about friendship and redemption but plenty of uproarious moments between the trio. Throughout, Robertson and Walls have true romantic harmony.

Even as "The Blackening" hones in on its relationship vs. friendship dilemma, the rest of the ensemble refuses to be ignored. From the absolute absurdity of Clifton (Jermaine Fowler), the awkward, Android-truther “Carlton” of the group who reveals his support for Trump, to the rambunctious, no-bullshit Shanika (X Mayo), “The Blackening” leaves no comedic stone unturned. Melvin Gregg shines as King, Nnamdi’s nonchalant ex-gangster best friend, and Grace Byers, as Allison, creates laugh-out-loud physical comedy while on an accidental Adderall trip. As the only biracial friend in the group, Allison is both the subject and emcee of the film's jokes about the spectrum of Blackness. 

Given the script's seamless hilarity, it can be easy to glide over all of the subtext within. But through character conversations and the thesis of the Blackening game, the movie sharply examines the role of Black people in horror, media, and culture. Characters are playing the game and fighting for their lives, but underneath, “The Blackening” points a finger at the ways Blackness is defined by a rubric and the litany of ways to have your card revoked. 

It’s all in lighthearted fun to strip Blackness because of not seeing “Friday,” and Story acknowledges this. However, "The Blackening" also directs a cutting gaze at a reality that in a world where white people incessantly seek to define Blackness, intra-community judgment and jokes can be harmful to people who haven’t had the privilege to be tapped into their culture until later in life. And while Story's movie certainly doesn’t contain the profundity of modern Black horror masterpieces like “Get Out,” it isn’t meant to. 

“The Blackening” is an unapologetically Black comedy through and through. It maintains its wit and bite to the very end, boastfully serving audiences a hilarious film we didn’t know we needed.

Now playing in theaters. 

Peyton Robinson

Peyton Robinson is a freelance film writer based in Chicago, IL. 

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Film Credits

The Blackening movie poster

The Blackening (2023)

Rated R for pervasive language, violence and drug use.

96 minutes

Cast

Antoinette Robertson as Lisa

Sinqua Walls as Nnamdi

Dewayne Perkins as Dwayne

X Mayo as Shanika

Melvin Gregg as King

Grace Byers as Allison

Jermaine Fowler as Clifton

Diedrich Bader as Officer White

Yvonne Orji as Morgan

Jay Pharoah as Shawn

Director

Writer

Cinematographer

Editor

Composer

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