The Blackening asks, “If the entire cast of a horror movie is Black, who dies first?” Because as it points out on the movie’s poster, “We can’t all die first.”
Well, technically, the entire cast isn’t Black. The main characters all are, though. And theoretically, they all could die first. For instance, if a bomb blew them all up at once or something.
But then it wouldn’t qualify as a slasher or a new addition to the horror-comedy genre. And a killer one at that.
In this no-spoiler review, we’ll look at what this movie got right and what it didn’t. But first, there’s another question the movie answers that I want to cover, one I had when I first learned about it.
Does The Blackening’s trailer show all the funniest parts?
That’s what I wondered when I first saw the trailer.
I hoped not. It looked like a lot of fun and had me laughing out loud. I hoped the movie would turn out to be as good as, or better, than its trailer. (That’s often a hit-or-miss proposition with horror movies, though, isn’t it? Well, with any movie, really.)
Anyway, as far as the comedy goes, The Blackening gets an A+. The audience I watched with was howling through the funny parts, the funniest of which wasn’t included in the trailer.
Again, no spoilers here, but my favorite scenes involved vomit, a firehouse (that has nothing to do with the puke part), and this line: “What in the Jim Crow f–k is that?”
The line also wasn’t associated with the throwing up or the firehouse. Rather, it was expressed when they first discovered the game, which shares the same name as the movie. As they describe it, there’s a black Sambo-looking face in the middle of the board that gives them instructions and questions.
However, it wasn’t a scene, but the opening part, that set the tone for the humor that was to follow. Words flashed up, declaring the movie was “based on a true story.”
Then a moment later, it added, “…that didn’t happen.”
Again, no spoilers here. I won’t reveal who (if anyone) died first or who (if anyone) survived.
I will say that other horror movies, as well as fans, have pointed out that Black characters in horror movies are usually the first to die.
I think the first time that came to my attention was when LL Cool J’s character in Halloween H2O: 20 Years Later said something about it.
At least, I think he did. It’s been a while since I saw that movie, but I believe he referenced something to the effect that Black people never fare well in horror movies and he didn’t intend to follow that path. It’s the movie that always pops first to mind when the issue comes up, at any rate.
But not all Black people in horror movies die. To prove that point, Blavity put together a list of 13 movies where Black characters survived. (Which reminded me that LL Cool J was also in another horror movie, Deep Blue Sea.)
But The Blackening creates a horror movie with an all-Black cast who are aware they’re very much in a horror movie-like predicament, and one of them has to die first (per the rules of the game)…but who?
Borrowing from horror tropes (while defying and redefining them)
As I watched the movie, I noticed parallels with other horror movies. Some of the comedy scenes between characters reminded me a bit of Clue. But the game aspect definitely felt very Saw-ish —meets Cabin in the Woods on Juneteenth.
During the interview with the movie’s cast, writers and director, Matt from Halloween Daily News asked about which movies they paid homage to. Tracy Oliver, one of the co-writers, named Saw, while Dewayne Perkins (the movie’s other writer) named Cabin in the Woods.
But Oliver said Scream was one of the biggest movies they’d drawn from, especially when it came to the friend and slasher aspect.
What The Blackening got right and where it missed the mark
I have to say, I really enjoyed almost every aspect of The Blackening. I’m always down for a horror comedy, which, for the most part, this movie was.
The characters felt fresh, and the actors portraying them all did an amazing job. And the dialogue is sharp. It’s one of those movies I want to see again just for that. (Or if I need a pick-me-up laugh.)
I was a bit perplexed about the mind-talk thing they do in the movie, though. I wished I’d asked Oliver and Perkins about that during the interview.
And then there was the plot…
I promised no spoilers, so I won’t go into specifics, but I will say this. Someone set it up so they’d find the game and would have to play it. I guessed that person’s identity right away…and then kept looking for clues to explain it, but they never came.
Well, there were small hints, but they were about minute details that didn’t explain the larger picture. (Yes, vague. Can’t help it if I want to heed my no-spoiler promise, which I do.)
I think it was meant to be a big plot twist, but it didn’t work. I totally saw it coming. Unlike Friday the 13th, where the killer’s identity was a surprise, or even Scream, where I had my suspicions but was only half right.
And that’s where The Blackening was a letdown. The explanation for why the person wanted to kill everyone was convoluted.
I think the intention was to keep the audience in the dark along with the characters. But it didn’t work because the audience didn’t have enough information.
However, I’ll refer to the likes of Friday the 13th and Scream again. We were given helpful background information in those circumstances. For instance, Jason’s mom had watched her son drown thanks to irresponsible camp counselors, and Sydney’s mom was murdered, and her loose morals had something to do with it. That created a sense of foreshadowing. We knew those pieces would tie together somehow. We’re not given any pieces in The Blackening.
Nor are we given any sense of the history of the trauma the killer endured or how the friends play a part in that. Until the end, that is. But that’s why the reveal falls flat, not to mention doesn’t make a lot of sense.
However, everything up until then was fire. So I forgave its weakness.
Plus, it ended with the firehouse part, which sort of washed away the disappointment over the clunky reveal of the killer’s motive. It left me walking out of the theater, chuckling, and remembering how enjoyable the rest of the movie had been.
The Blackening releases in theaters on June 16. Visit Lionsgate to learn more.