​'The Blackening' Flips Horror Clichés on Their Head

Directed by Tim Story

Starring Grace Byers, Jermaine Fowler, Melvin Gregg, X Mayo, Dewayne Perkins, Antoinette Robertson, Sinqua Walls, Jay Pharoah, Yvonne Orji

Photo: Glen Wilson

BY Rachel HoPublished Jun 14, 2023

More than most genres, horror can find itself weighed down by tropes — chief among them being cars not starting, inexplicably running up the stairs and groups deciding to split up. In The Blackening, Tim Story confronts one of the horror's worst clichés, asking: who dies first if the entire cast in a horror movie is Black?

Tucked away deep into the woods, a group of friends, including Allison (Grace Byers) and King (Melvin Gregg), reunite for a Juneteenth celebration. As the old friends catch up and reminisce over games of Spades, tensions begin to arise as it becomes clear that Lisa (Antoinette Robertson) and Nnamdi (Sinqua Walls) have rekindled their relationship, much to the chagrin of Dewayne (Dewayne Perkins), Lisa's best friend who's tired of picking up her broken heart. When Shanika (X Mayo) and Clifton (Jermaine Fowler) finally make it to the cabin, the guest list is accounted for, although no one has seen Morgan (Yvonne Orji) or Shawn (Jay Pharoah) yet — the ones whose bags are here and who booked the cabin in the first place.

After another round of Spades dies down, the power is suddenly cut. As they go through the house (together) to investigate, they find themselves locked in the cabin's game room, where a board game called "The Blackening" awaits them. Rules of the game are simple: answer the trivia questions on the cards correctly within two minutes or Morgan, who is shown tied to a chair via a live feed on the TV, dies — and they'll be next. When they finally answer incorrectly, the hunt begins. 

The Blackening works as a satirical send-up of horror films and as a formidable entry into the genre itself. Co-written by Perkins and Tracy Oliver, the dialogue is biting and laugh-out-loud funny, as it takes aim at the historically expendable nature of Black characters in horror, while also touching on other cultural touchstones, such as mixed-race relationships and upbringings, and what makes one person "Blacker" than another.

There's nothing particularly groundbreaking about the horror elements, and, even though the film is aware of the tropes it uses and falls into, it doesn't change the impression that The Blackening remains a fairly by-the-numbers horror flick. Regardless, the movie is a fun scary movie that's gory and violent in just the right ways without being overly sensational. 

Although the subtext of The Blackening finds its roots in long-held biases and prejudices, the movie finds a happy medium in presenting these heavy themes in a light-hearted and oddly joyful way. The epitome of a summer season slasher, The Blackening finds the humour and horror in equal measure.
(Cineplex Pictures)

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