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The Blackening Main

The Blackening Movie Review

Written by Ricardo Serrano Denis

Released by Lionsgate Films

blackening poster

Directed by Tim Story
Written by Tracy Oliver and Dewayne Perkins
2022, 96 minutes, Rated R
Released on June 16, 2023

Antoinette Robertson as Lisa
Dewayne Perkins as Dewayne
Sinqua Walls as Nnamdi
Grace Byers as Allison
X Mayo as Shanika
Melvin Gregg as King
Jermaine Fowler as Clifton
Yvonne Orji as Morgan
Jay Pharoah as Shawn


If The Blackening’s tagline, “We Can’t All Die First,” and the trailers haven’t given it away for you yet, then you should know the movie is all about tearing down the convention of black characters dying first in horror films. Director Tim Story doubled down on this as he introduced the film at the iconic Apollo Theater for its New York City premiere, telling the audience “The movie is unapologetically black in showing what we go through in horror movies. Whatever other meaning or message you find in this movie is on you.”

While the comment elicited the intended laughs, I couldn’t help but feel Story was being playfully disingenuous. By the time the credits rolled, I knew his observation was entirely intentional. There’s a lot more underneath the surface of The Blackening, but it’s never put before fun, laughter, and solid slasher action. It is on us, and fishing it out is half the fun.

The Blackening follows a group of friends that go to a house in the woods for a long-awaited college reunion during Juneteenth weekend. Like any legit reunion, past drama follows close behind and the reminiscing of old times brings the group closer (especially by playing their favorite card game, Spades). It all changes suddenly when they stumble into a game room with an ominous board game lying in wait at its center.

the blackening 01 the blackening 02

The game’s called The Blackening, a Black trivia game with a talking Sambo head that shoots creepy questions to the group to test their blackness. One question forces the group to name every black character to have ever appeared on the show Friends, for instance. Failure to answer brings about dire consequences, and Story runs with it to build up a quick and fun slasher with smart jokes throughout.

What truly elevates any slasher is its cast of potential victims, what they represent and how they go about justifying their death or their survival. The Blackening excels in this regard. Because the premise keeps you on your toes on the promise someone will die at one point, picking favorites and then rooting for them becomes an interesting exercise that ups the stakes considerably early on.

Each character is strong on their own merits, and they go beyond the traditional horror tropes to find their worth. They elude classic categories like The Virgin or The Sacrificial Lamb, the kinds that characterized '90s slashers. Instead, they’re given room to breathe as layered characters that don’t come off as blood bags waiting to be burst. It’s really hard to highlight just a few of these characters when everyone does such a great job, but Dewayne Perkins’ Dewayne, Antoinette Robertson’s Lisa, and Jermaine Fowler’s Clifton truly go the extra mile to make the movie stand out.

the blackening 03 the blackening 04

Each of them approaches character in a way that embraces their blackness, this amorphous quality that can determine life or death for those playing the game. Dewayne might be the gay character, but he’s not the comic relief and he’s not played for laughs because he’s gay. He’s genuinely funny because he gets great jokes and because upends expectations. In fact, every character is funny. No one is the designated “comic relief,” which makes everyone contribute in their own way.

Fowler’s character, Clifton, stands out as being a representation of blackness that clashes with that of the others. He’s geeky, awkward, and goofy, the outsider of the group that most everyone seems to keep at a distance. This character sneaks up on you, though. What he brings to the table on the blackness debate just turns everything on its head and makes for some of the movie’s funniest moments. He puts the very idea of blackness on the trial, forcing it to stand judgment from the audience along with the other characters. Slashers should take note: This is how you create a great cast of characters, by transforming clichés and stereotypes and using them to explore different things.

I was afraid the movie would veer too hard on some of the more outlandish jokes and land it on Scary Movie territory. Thankfully, it just manages to dodge it. Things are kept plausible, but also meta enough to make fans of Scary Movie feel welcome. It strikes a good balance that knows when to rein it in and when to let loose.

the blackening 05 the blackening 06

The movie’s faults are minimal and don’t detract from its enjoyment. If anything, the movie has a twist that can be seen coming from a mile away, one that’s been done before more than a few times. A bit more could’ve been done with the idea that black characters are more adept at surviving horror scenarios because they wouldn’t do the stupid stuff white characters do in these movies all the time, too. It sometimes falls victim to some of the ideas it tries to make fun of with slashers, making it a bit predictable in parts.

That said, none of it diminishes what Tim Story and Co. managed to bring to the screen. The Blackening is the type of movie that knows what it wants and how to get it. It shows its sketch comedy origins (which is what it started as in Dewayne Parks’ 3Peat comedy group), but it doesn’t outstay its welcome. On the contrary, it opens the doors for future films that put all-Black casts on different horror scenarios. If possible, see it with a crowd. The Blackening is a social experience, you’ll get the most out of it in a movie theater where everyone is laughing and screaming together.


Movie: 4.5 Star Rating Cover
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About The Author
Ricardo Serrano Denis
Staff Writer
Ricardo believes that everything can be explained with horror. It’s why he uses it in his History classes and why he writes about horror comics. He holds a Master’s degree in Comics from the University of Dundee in Scotland in which he studied the relationship between Frankenstein and Marvel’s Ultron. He was born and raised in Puerto Rico and is now based in Brooklyn.
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