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Review: The Blackening

Taking the well-worn horror trope that the Black character always dies first as a starting point, The Blackening is an uneven but enjoyable mix of humor and commentary. It's the horror elements that feel underbaked and well, routine. Director Tim Story has assembled a fun, likable cast of newcomers here and knows comedic timing. The film mocks cultural stereotypes and even comments on Blackness in an inherently racist society. Not every joke or stab at culture lands but often they do, resulting in a great way to spend 90 minutes.

The setup is pretty standard horror fare. A group of college friends reunites in a cabin in the woods for Juneteenth only to find that someone wants to play a deadly game with them. There is some satisfying drama among these friends. Lisa (Antionette Robertson) has secretly gotten back together with her cheating ex Nnamdi (Sinqua Walls). Dewayne (Dewayne Perkins) is Lisa's best friend and is furious to find out they are back together. However, all of this fades thanks to some drugs and the fact that two of their friends are missing. They soon find a creepy board game called The Blackening, which asks them Black culture trivia questions and threatens death for a wrong answer.

The screenplay by Tracy Oliver, Perkins, and Story is an adaptation of a short that Perkins created. It uses a familiar structure that any horror fan will recognize. The twists are pretty predictable and the scares are pretty routine. There are some fun nods to People Under the Stairs, Scream, and Saw here but the real success of the screenplay is the humor. Mix this with a great cast and the film brings the laughs consistently.

The film also does a nice job of satirizing race and culture. Bi-racial Allison (Grace Byers) is picked on for having a white dad and not being as Black as her friends. This cleverly comes into play during the third act as characters judge one another for responding like white people in a horror film. Other jokes poke at Trump, police brutality, and race relations. These elements add a bit of bite to the film which helps buoy the flimsy plot and silly twists.

The cast deserves a lot of credit here. They all give lively, likable performances. Perkins is a standout as the flamboyant Dewayne. X Mayo brings a ton of attitude to Shanika. The game cast vibe well together, creating a real sense of friendship among them.

At 90 minutes, The Blackening doesn't overstay its welcome. While the horror elements didn't work for me, everything else did. I laughed throughout the entire film and that is enough to recommend this movie.



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