Jordan Peele’s landmark Out has sparked a wave of black horror movies and TV series over the past five years that explore and exploit modern and historical racial dynamics for monstrous suspense. The problem is, except for the recent one from Peele nomost of those efforts – from pre-war and candy man until HBOs lovecraft country and Prime Videos Them– were ho-hum at best and reductive at worst, failing to successfully strike a balance between gory genre kicks and new socio-political insights. That trend is now reaching a kind of low point with The blackeninga selection of Midnight Madness at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival with a clever approach and almost no idea how to perform it in an entertaining way.
Based on a three-and-a-half-minute 3Peat Comedy sketch of the same name that aired on Comedy Central in 2018, The blackening revolves around a simple and smart question: if black people are always stereotypically the first to die in horror movies, what would happen if a horror movie were populated exclusively by black characters? barbershop and shaft Director Tim Story’s feature film adaptation doesn’t openly ask that question, only trying to answer it through the story of a group of high school friends who gather in a cabin in the woods on Juneteenth for a 10-year reunion. All of these individuals are black, while the only white people you see are an old codger at a dilapidated gas station, a creepy one-eyed behemoth behind a grocery store counter, and a park ranger named, ahem, White (Diedrich Bader), who makes his presence known by possibly profile a young black man because he is in the rented house.
Before introducing any of those would-be white killers, The 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 creepy playroom with a board game called The Blackening, which features a large racist blackface caricature in the middle. The two, of course, are disgusted by this “Sambo”, and even more surprised by the fact that the face speaks to them and demands that they choose a card that asks: name a black character who once survived a horror movie. The best Shawn can think of is Jada Pinkett Smith and Omar Epps from shout 2and although Morgan correctly informs him that he is wrong (they both deal), the reference is deliberate, a self-conscious foreshadowing of the uncanny fate the duo has in store.
Shortly after, attorney 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 mobster King (Melvin Gregg) and series Lothario Nnamdi (Sinqua Walls). , who has secretly rekindled his romance with ex Lisa, much to Dewayne’s dismay. They are soon joined by Shanika (X Mayo) and Clifton (Jermaine Fowler), the former profane and last super nerdy. Clifton is also almost forgettable, as he claims to have been invited to this meeting by Morgan, but no one seems to remember or know him. Nevertheless, his presence does not seem to interest anyone very much, because The blackening is a horror film that supposedly wants to scare and yet can’t be bothered to hide the obvious twists and turns.
Once together, the crew decides to take a bunch of Molly, drink King’s ultra-sugar Kool-Aid and play Spades – except, that is, for outcast Clifton, who doesn’t understand the rules and is too weak to be anyone. convince him to teach them. Perkins and Tracy Oliver’s script spends too generous an amount of time setting up these characters, most of which involve unimportant chatter about the state of Lisa and Nnamdi’s relationship, and is laced with barbs about each friend’s relative Blackness. That topic is initially coined for tense one-liners — like Allison who looks like a zebra because her father is white — only to become more relevant when the troupe finds The Blackening and, after being tested on black history trivia. , is told by the game’s abusive MC that in order to live, they must sacrifice the friend who is the most black.
The ensuing roundabout conversation attempts to talk about the personal racial attitudes of black Americans, but it primarily results in a bunch of lame jokes that develop into an easy blow to Donald Trump. It turns out The Blackening is a device used by a hulking assassin in, yes, a demented blackface mask, who stalks his prey while wielding a crossbow and controlling the doors and lights of the house. The Devil is a Jason Voorhees-Michael Myers knock-off with a few Jigsaw-esque tricks up his sleeve, and he’s as scary as your average goldfish. He’s also about as dangerous; despite his marksmanship, the villain turns out to be severely incompetent when it comes to committing actual murder, instead injuring a few targets and getting wounded over the course of multiple encounters that are just as inelegant and annoying as the stings of the material on comedy.
“The ensuing roundabout conversation attempts to talk about the personal racial attitudes of black Americans, but it primarily results in a bunch of lame jokes that develop into an easy blow to Donald Trump.”
Adderall-powered hallucinations (and superpowers), extended bits about friendsrefers to Shut it down and other loose jokes are scattered about this merry tale, which would have no raison d’être if it didn’t constantly bring the question of race to the fore, and yet make no pointed or funny commentary on the subject. Story’s slasher saga has a solitary idea: imbuing black characters with (positive and negative) agency. Unfortunately, they are so one-dimensional and unfunny, and their interpersonal conflicts so fuzzy and irrelevant, that it’s impossible to be over-invested in their survival. To complicate matters further, Story and Company have their protagonists ridicule certain strategic options (“We need to split!”) as typical white idiocy, then engage in the same stupid behavior for reasons that make no sense.
The blackening can’t even stage his action clearly; the director films most of the proceedings in dark shadows that make everything dull and unclear. Between that gloom and some horrible, artificial-looking lens flares, the film proves incapable of handling light and darkness well, given the equally clumsy dialogue about race.