Wanna mock horror movies? Been there, seen the “Scary Movie” franchise and the “Scream” saga. That’s a total of 11 films, all skewering the genre with glee.
That’s not including two “Haunted House” features.
So right away “The Blackening” faces some tall odds at being both different and satirically sharp.
Things go downhill at breakneck speed once the story settles into place. A group of black friends reunites at a cabin in the woods (get it???) where they find a racist game and an insidious killer behind the challenges.
A few smiles emerge, nothing more, but the story lumbers on for 96 brutal minutes while the characters spout BLM-approved talking points until we cry, “uncle!”
The aforementioned friends gather to do drugs and re-open old wounds when they discover a board game displayed within the cabin. The game features a disembodied voice demanding they answer the game’s questions or people will die.
The games in question involve racially-charged questions like, “Name Five Black Actors Who Appeared on the Show ‘Friends,'” (as if that meme isn’t hopelessly stale by now) and the Black National Anthem.
Soon, the cabin mates are running for their lives around a cabin that can’t find a single scare within its halls.
“The Blackening’s” slack prologue is a warning of what’s to come. Even worse? “Saturday Night Live” alum Jay Pharaoh boasts more presence in his brief screen time than all the major players we’re about to meet.
That includes X Mayo, Sinqua Walls, Dewayne Perkins and Grace Beyers, none of whom distinguish themselves. Then again, the ham-fisted script (co-written by Perkins based on his short film) does them few favors.
The most insufferable character, and that’s a real foot race, is played by Jermaine Fowler attempting a fifth-rate Uriel impression.
‘The Blackening’ Star Dewayne Perkins on His Gay Horror Spoof Character and Mining His Coming-Out Story for Comedy https://t.co/UdvnIw3DHS
— The Hollywood Reporter (@THR) June 14, 2023
The characters’ thoughts on white people will be studied years from now, stoked by a cultural tide that made such views acceptable in elite circles.
- “White people scare me,” one character complains
- The story’s biracial character, played by Beyers, loathes her white heritage
- “Are there any white people who wanna kill us? Potentially all of them.”
Director Tim Story isn’t Scorsese or Peele, but he’s capably delivered socially aware comedy (“Barbershop”) and action heroics (“Shaft”) in the past. Here, it’s like he’s forgotten everything he’s learned over two decades in Hollywood.
The film is poorly lit, but not in any way that heightens the fear factor. A fight sequence between one of our heroes and the villain is so amateurishly staged it’s hard to tell what’s happening at any given moment.
We’re also treated to limp jump scares, another sign of creative indifference.
Audiences can disagree with the characters’ core beliefs and still howl at the high jinks if the jokes are funny or inspired. Maybe the audience’s preconceived notions on race could be nudged by a film’s commentary.
That’s why pop culture can be so challenging and vital. None of the gags come close here, even if a few punch lines hit their targets.
Another unforced error?
The film assumes black people hold monolith views on race, the police and much more. It’s all woke, all the time, and “The Blackening” misses a satirical opportunity by ignoring divergent views.
The Urkel stand-in votes for Trump, a rare exception, but he aligns with his chums on every other topic. The MAGA hate here is considerable, but once again it’s never clever enough to warrant its inclusion.
A killer laugh line can make even cruel commentary well worth a smile. The latter are in short supply with “The Blackening.”
HiT or Miss: “The Blackening” asks us to cheer on unlikeable characters in a horror-comedy that skimps on both counts.