“The Blackening” is the first great horror parody of the post-“Get Out” era. The scares may be underserved, but the laughs and Blackness commentary make this a thrilling rollercoaster of a film. Based on 3-PEAT Comedy’s 2018 Comedy Central digital short of the same name, it asks a simple question: If the Black character is always the first to go in a horror movie, what happens when the whole cast is Black?
In the original short, a serial killer forces the group to sacrifice whoever is Blackest in order to save themselves. Directed by Tim Story (“Shaft”), the film expands the concept to lampoon every other horror trope and cliché. We start with a remote house in the woods — not a cabin, it’s a gorgeous home — with, of course, a creepy basement. There’s a horribly racist board game, The Blackening, which has a big blackface figure as a mascot. The game is simple: Answer questions about blackness or die.
Written by Dewayne Perkins (who wrote the original short) and Tracy Oliver (“Girls Trip”), the script does a great job of selling the the relationships between the would-be slasher-victim archetypes on a getaway trip to celebrate Juneteenth as well as their 10-year college reunion. Between the stoner, the gay man, the jock, his girlfriend, and the nerd, we get to know the fights that created rifts, the joys that kept them together, and the embarrassing stories they like to tell. All that within the first few minutes, plus a Texas Chainsaw Massacre namedrop, so we care about their dynamic before the blood starts pouring.
When the group discovers the board game and realizes a masked killer has kidnapped one of their own, they must win the game and save their lives — or, someone will become the token black person to die first. Friendships are tested, bodies hit the floor, and plenty of laughs are had with a cast that includes Perkins as well as Yvonne Orji (“Insecure”), Antoinette Robertson (TV series “Dear White People”), Sinqua Walls (“Nanny”), and Jermaine Fowler (“Tuca & Bertie”).
Every slasher movie needs a good villain and here the killer wears a blackface leather mask. It’s on the nose, but this parody has about as much subtext as “Scary Movie” and that’s part of the fun. There is no toning down Blackness or explaining things to white audiences. If you don’t know how to play Spades or what the Black anthem is, ask a friend.
The influences in “The Blackening” range from from “Friends” to “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” to “Get Out,” with references to the sunken place and “The Shining” sketch from “Key and Peele.” It interrogates the idea of Blackness, and the stupid attempts made to quantify it. Embracing clichés and stereotypes, and then twisting them, allows the film to examine Blackness: Does being a gay Black man makes you less Black than someone who says the N-word more often? or someone who once belonged in a gang?
More importantly, the film specifically examines Blackness through the lens of whiteness, making a white man the enemy and showing how an outside force wreaks havoc among the closed group. The film jokes about Black suffering, but this is far from trauma porn. It’s a truly Black horror comedy.
“The Blackening” premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.