Director Tim Story’s “The Blackening” hit theaters on June 16. I walked into the theater excited to be seeing a low- budget horror-comedy, but not anticipating a fresh plot. However, I was pleasantly surprised when the story shocked and delighted at every turn. The film stars Dewayne Perkins, who doubled as a co-writer of the script alongside Tracy Oliver. Also featured are Jermaine Fowler, Antoinette Robertson, Sinqua Walls, Grace Byers, X Mayo and Melvin Gregg, with Yvonne Orji and Jay Pharoah. It is based on a 2018 short film titled, “3Peat Presents: The Blackening,” also written by Perkins.
They kick-start into an immediate trope by centering on a cabin in the woods. Morgan (Orji) and Shawn (Pharoah) play a couple who shows up to the cabin first, preparing for a Juneteenth celebration and reunion of friends who have not seen each other since college. The couple stumbles upon a game room with only one board game: The Blackening. The board features an anti-Black caricature at the center, play pieces, cards and a voiceover. There is also a small television visible that plays a theme for the game. The two become curious with the offensive and outrageous aspects, as well as the voiceover demanding them to play, so they engage. The board instructs, “Name a Black character that survives any horror film.” They incorrectly guess Jada Pinkett-Smith, who famously dies in the opening sequence of “Scream 2.” The consequences to their loss are swift and extreme.
The rest of the group, including Lisa (Robertson), Nnamdi (Walls), Dewayne (Perkins), Allison (Byers), Shanika (Mayo), King (Gregg) and Clifton (Fowler), arrive at a later time, chalking up Morgan and Shawn’s absence to a grocery run or couple’s excursion. The audience quickly learns the conflicts at the center of the long-time friends through natural and tense interaction. Lisa and Nnamdi are back together after their tumultuous college relationship, against the better judgement of Dewayne, who is Lisa’s closest friend. King is fighting against his past and wants to prove himself to be different, Shanika and Allison want everyone to have a good time — (including themselves — and Clifton is an insecure outsider.
When they go looking for Morgan and Shawn after hours of drinking, doing drugs and catching up, they too stumble upon the game room, appalled at the racist aspect but intrigued by the fact that each game piece seems to align with one of their personalities, indicating it was set up specifically for them. The group realizes the stakes of the game after being shown a struggling Morgan on the monitor, and are pushed to a hilarious, yet suspenseful battle between life and death. The cards hold difficult questions regarding Black culture, such as, “Name five Black actors who guest starred on ‘Friends.’” When the inevitable happens, a cat and mouse chase between the seven of them and “the killer” ensues. Humor is tied in with nuanced conversations on Blackness and the culture they have come together to celebrate, allowing the audience to digest heavy content without confusion or protest.
An all-Black cast coupled with the tagline, “We can’t all die first,” makes it apparent from the beginning that they were going to lean heavily into and against 2000s horror tropes, such as a Black character being the first to die in a horror movie or a killer walking menacingly through the woods at a surprisingly slow pace while the girl he’s chasing keeps turning around and falling. This is made clear by many moments in the film, one being a character reluctantly suggesting they split up, and the entire group responding through groans and protests, knowing that is a death sentence in the horror genre.
The comedic timing and dialogue of each character pushes the plot forward, while still offering endless punchlines and impressive physical comedy. Mayo and Perkin’s performances, specifically, stuck out to me as refreshingly funny, with deliveries from Mayo that caused me to laugh embarrassingly loud in the theater. Clear chemistry between the talented actors proves there is no weak link in the cast, with the movie concluding as a tale of redemption between friends, while not forgetting for one second to remain laughable and quick-witted.
The only downside is that there is significantly less horror than comedy, so if you are looking for a film that is going to keep you up at night, this is not the one for you. However, if you are looking for a film that is invigoratingly hysterical and will teach you a lesson or two on friendship, look no further than, “The Blackening.”