At its best, The Blackening is a fun, laugh-out-loud blockbuster that sends up the many genre clichés surrounding Black people in horror (mostly the notion that they always die first in horror films). At its worst, though, it’s a reductive slasher-comedy where most jokes earn a measly huff.
We’re first introduced to Morgan and Shawn, a loving couple played by Yvonne Orji and Jay Pharoah who are prepping for a weekend of Juneteenth festivities with some mates from college. While exploring the house, they find a game room and play ‘The Blackening’, which tests them on their knowledge of Black culture. Failing to “name five Black people that have made it to the end of a horror movie”, the pair soon discover the lethal consequences for losing…
The rest of the film follows a different group of friends, all generalised caricatures of African Americans who we are meant to care about. Shanika, King, Dewayne, Lisa, Nnamdi and Allison rock up at the same cabin as Morgan and Shawn, soon stumbling upon the titular murderous game. From then on, the group kicks into survival mode – desperate to avoid the mysterious killers on their tail.
The characters themselves aren’t terrible, it’s the way they interact that will get on your nerves. At first, the constant sarcastic roasting makes for relatable fun, especially when everyone breaks off into smaller silos. Before long though everything turns stale and, to be honest, quite mean-spirited. This switch comes when the group is forced to sacrifice “the Blackest” person to save Morgan. As they argue, a distasteful joke is made about Nnamdi – a man of African descent – being the Blackest because he “literally comes from Africa”. While parts of the scene work – Allison (a biracial woman) jokingly weaponises her whiteness with a “huh-wah” to avoid being slaughtered – most of it comes off flippant and perpetuates clichéd stereotypes we no longer need to see on screen. The six-piece is more fun to watch when Clifton, a nerdy ex-college acquaintance with a very dark past, shows up. Jermaine Fowler’s pitch-perfect performance provides many of the funnier moments – and he ends up stealing the show. If there’s any reason to rewatch at all, it’s probably Clifton.
Similar films like the Wayans Brothers’ Scary Movie and Haunted House stand the test of time because the scripts are widely relatable and often nuanced. But the jokes in The Blackening will not age well. It has given us what we want – more Black leads in horror (not to mention other movie genres) – but it is certainly not timeless. A five-star concept with two-star execution.
Director: Tim Story
Starring: Grace Byers, Jermaine Fowler, Melvin Gregg
Release date: August 25 (in UK cinemas)