It’s a tale as old as time: six friends come together for a reunion at a camp in the woods and a murderous maniac crashes the party. In The Blackening, college friends travel to a secluded Airbnb to celebrate Juneteenth. Allison (Grace Byers), King (Melvin Gregg), Shanika (X Mayo), Dewayne (Dewayne Perkins), Lisa (Antoinette Robertson), and Nnamdi (Sinqua Walls) haven’t been together in ten years. As with any group of friends, they have old drama, broken romances, and easy camaraderie. Their plan for the weekend is to drink, play games, and reminisce about the good ol’ days.
That plan is quickly thrown into jeopardy with the arrival of Clifton (Jermaine Fowler), an awkwardly nerdy guy who says he was invited by Morgan (Yvonne Orji), the person who organized the whole event. Throwing things further into disarray is a racist, creepy board game run by a masked killer (James Preston Rogers) who locks the group of friends in his demented game room. The rules are simple: play the game or die. Of course, it’s not a regular game. This game quizzes the players’ about their knowledge of Black pop culture in order to test the group’s Blackness.
The Blackening is based on the comedy troupe 3Peat’s 2018 short film of the same name. Both the short and the feature are a tongue-in-cheek take on the trope that the Black character in a horror movie always dies first. “We can’t all die first” proclaims the movie poster, so how will the events of The Blackening unfold? The answer to that question is, of course, better left unsaid. The film has a lean, mean runtime of 96 minutes and breezes through a smartly-written script that’s elevated by the infectious chemistry of the cast.
Part horror movie, part comedy, The Blackening is one of those films that benefits from being seen with an audience. In a time when the mid-budget comedy gets sent to a streaming service instead of playing in a theatre, it’s exhilarating to have this experience in person with strangers. It’s even more exhilarating when the script is genuinely funny, as is the case with The Blackening. If you’ve never experienced an entire theatre singing the O’Reilly Auto Parts theme song at the drop of a hat, then you’re missing a fundamental aspect of moviegoing. The way a movie can unite strangers who will likely never be in the same place again is magical. It’s the sort of lightning-in-a-bottle experience that’s been sorely lacking for moviegoers in recent years.
Many will see the trailer of The Blackening and equate it to a run-of-the-mill horror parody. We live in a time when movies of every genre are winking at the audience with their meta narratives. It’s exhausting, to say the least. Rarely are these stories done well. Instead, they’re just awkwardly throwing well-worn tropes at the audience without any spin at all. Simply pointing out that a trope exists within a genre is not interesting. What elevates a parody to a movie worthy of repeat views is the complexity of the observations about the confines of the genre. It’s something The Blackening does in stride.
While comedy does take the driver’s seat for most of the film, there’s also some interpersonal drama that moves the script forward. It could have been easy for any of the six lead characters to overpower the dynamic of the film. In the case of The Blackening, it’s like hanging out with your own friends. No one character pulls more focus than another. It’s a true ensemble movie, but the drama between Dewayne, Lisa, and Nnamdi, aside from the murderer, provides the conflict within the friend group. Had each of the six friends had their own in-depth goals to achieve, the movie would’ve been stretched too thin. Or, if they extended the runtime, it would’ve been bloated. The Blackening takes on the difficult task of editing itself, and it’s all the better for it.
The Blackening deserves to be a success. It’s hard to talk about a movie that is deeply rooted in the unexpectedness of its comedy, so the lasting impression should be this: The Blackening is joyously fun, lovingly made, and the triumphant return of the mid-budget comedy.