‘The Blackening’ Tries Like Hell To Parody Horror Movie Racism

The Jordan Peele emblem get out has, over the past five years, ushered in a wave of noir horror films and TV series that investigate and exploit modern and historical racial dynamics for monstrous thrills. The problem is, with the exception of the recent Nopethe majority of these efforts – from pre-war and candy man at HBO Lovecraft Country and Prime Video Their— have been ho-hum at best and reductive at worst, failing to strike a successful balance between bloody genre kicks and new sociopolitical ideas. This trend is now reaching something of a nadir with Blackeninga selection from Midnight Madness at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival that has a clever hook and almost doesn’t know how to execute it in an entertaining way.

Based on a four-and-a-half-minute 3Peat Comedy sketch of the same name that aired on Comedy Central in 2018, Blackening revolves around a simple and clever question: if black people are always stereotypically the first to die in horror movies, what if a horror movie were populated solely by black characters? Hair salon and Tree Director Tim Story’s feature film adaptation doesn’t openly ask that question, but simply attempts to answer it via the story of a group of high school friends reuniting at a cabin in the woods on June 16 for a 10 year meeting. All of these individuals are black, while the only white people in sight are an old geezer at a run-down gas station, a creepy one-eyed monster behind a convenience store counter, and a park ranger named, ahem, White (Diedrich Bader), who makes his presence known by potentially profiling a young black man to be at the rental residence.

Before any of these potential Caucasian killers are introduced, Blackening focuses on Morgan (Yvonne Orji) and Shawn (Jay Pharoah), the organizers of this shindig, as they prepare the cabin for the arrival of their cohorts. Their preparations are interrupted by Shawn’s discovery of a spooky arcade that houses a board game called The Blackening which, at its center, sports a large racist black-faced caricature. The two are understandably disgusted by this “Sambo,” and even more surprised that the face speaks to them, demanding that they choose a card that asks: name a black character who has ever survived a horror movie. The best Shawn can find is Jada Pinkett Smith and Omar Epps from Cry 2and though Morgan correctly informs him that he is wrong (they both perish), the reference is deliberate, consciously foreshadowing the grisly fate that awaits the pair.

Shortly after, lawyer Lisa (Antoinette Robertson), her gay best friend Dewayne (Dewayne Perkins), and biracial Allison (Grace Byers) arrive at the cabin, where they are greeted by former gang member King (Melvin Gregg) and serial Lothario Nnamdi (Sinqua Walls), who secretly rekindled his romance with his ex Lisa, much to Dewayne’s dismay. They are soon joined by Shanika (X Mayo) and Clifton (Jermaine Fowler), the former layman and second super nerdy. Clifton is also irretrievably forgettable, as he claims to have been invited to this gathering by Morgan, but no one seems to remember or know about him. However, his presence does not seem to worry anyone, because Blackening is a horror movie that supposedly wants to scare and yet can’t be bothered to hide its obvious twists.

Once together, the crew decides to grab a bunch of Molly, drink King’s ultra-sweet Kool-Aid, and play Spades, except for outcast Clifton, who doesn’t understand the rules and is too lame to convince. anybody. to teach them. Perkins and Tracy Oliver’s script spends too generous a time establishing these characters, most of which involve trivial chatter about the state of Lisa and Nnamdi’s relationship, and are peppered with barbs about each friend’s relative blackness. This subject is initially exploited for strained one-liners – like Allison looking like a zebra, because her father is white – only to become more relevant when the troupe finds The Blackening and, after being tested on anecdotes about black history, is told by the game. Offensive MC who, in order to live, must sacrifice the blackest friend.

The ensuing devious conversation strives to address the personal racial attitudes of Black Americans, but it mostly results in a bunch of soft jokes that turn into an easy snap at Donald Trump. It turns out The Blackening is a device wielded by a massive killer in, yes, a demented black face mask, who stalks his prey while wielding a crossbow and controlling house doors and lights. The Demon is a Jason Voorhees-Michael Myers knockoff with a few Jigsaw-style tricks up his sleeve, and he’s as scary as your average goldfish. It’s also about as dangerous; despite his marksmanship, the villain proves woefully incompetent when it comes to committing actual murder, instead wounding a few targets and injuring himself in multiple encounters as inelegant and tedious as stabbing equipment to comedy.

“The ensuing devious conversation strives to address the personal racial attitudes of Black Americans, but it mostly results in a bunch of soft jokes that turn into an easy snap at Donald Trump.”

Hallucinations powered by Adderall (and superpowers), extended pieces on Friendsreferences to Disable it and other scattered gags dot this mirthless tale, which would have no reason to exist if it didn’t constantly bring the question of race to the forefront, and yet offers no pointed or amusing commentary on the subject. Story’s slasher saga has one idea: to imbue black characters with agency (both positive and negative). Unfortunately, they’re so one-dimensional and unfunny, and their interpersonal conflicts are so sketchy and irrelevant that it’s impossible to get too invested in their survival. To make matters worse, Story and company instruct their protagonists to mock certain strategic options (“We have to part ways!”) as typical white idiocy, and then engage in that same stupid behavior for reasons that make no sense.

Blackening cannot even stage his action with lucidity; the director casts most of the proceedings in murky shadows that make everything look dull and indistinct. Between that darkness and horrible artificial reflections, the film proves incapable of properly dealing with light and dark, given its equally inane dialogue about race.

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