Who Goes First?: Our Review of ‘The Blackening’

Posted in Theatrical by - June 16, 2023
Who Goes First?: Our Review of ‘The Blackening’

The Blackening is my first Tim Story film, not counting me watching parts of Think Like A Man. Anyway, the title refers to two things. The first the way two of the female characters, Allison (Grace Byers) and Lisa (Antoinette Robinson), teleplathically communicate to each other. It’s an onvious reference to how three of the characters in The Shining universe, have, well, the shining. Both Allison and Lisa find out whether or not their other friends share the same gift. Playing these friends, by the way, areDewayne Perkins, Jermaine Fowler, Melvin Gregg, and X Mayo.

That gift also shares the same name as a sick board game. One that the friends find in the AirBnB they’re renting, a game that tests Black people of their knowledge of Black history. A mysterious figure already killed off two of their friends (Jay Pharoah and Yvonne Orji), and if the group gets a wrong answer, that person will kill them all one by one.

Horror has enough tropes and the main one is that most films’ token Black character dies first. But since The Blackening has a mostly Black cast, the group asks themselves who that first sacrifical lamb is. That spin can either have a long lifespan or a short one, and yes, the film kills off enough people during its first act. But it doesn’t stop the group and thus, the viewers, to ask who goes second or third. It’s good for the film to make its big conceit evolve. Although admittedly, the film’s reference feel too mainstream, so much so that it comes short of finding it’s true voice. Outside the watered down the Kubrick references, the film does feel too much like an entry in the Saw series.

There is another thing that sets The Blackening back and that is Fowler’s performance as Clifton. Fowler is great in smaller moments but mostly, he’s just doing an overcooked Urkel impersonation. The costume is enough to express the character but he goes a mile too far. Clifton is blerd slander. The rest of the cast find nuances while playing archteypal roles and still make their jokes funny. Robinson is particularly great as Lisa, playing one third of a complicated friendship triangle that eventually unleashes a rage that makes viewers side with her. The film finds gallows humour in the fact that Black people can’t trust a mostly white world. And sometimes, they can’t trust each other neither, not even while they’re all running from a masked maniac. This is a film you should see with a raucuous audience.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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