Metro Weekly

‘The Blackening’ Review: Who’s On First?

Bodies are dropping and the laughs are popping in the hilarious, trope-busting horror-comedy 'The Blackening.'

Antoinette Robertson in The Blackening – Photo: Glen Wilson

Slasher comedies were a thing even before Scream, which permanently reset the formula by offering characters in a horror movie who behaved with a distinct awareness of the ways dumb young people wind up dead in horror movies. Generations raised on Sidney, Gail, and various members of the Meeks family breaking down horror movie logic can’t go back now.

Watching characters trudge stupidly into dark, deserted murder houses, alone and weaponless, sinks the suspense, as in last month’s The Boogeyman, which sent teen lead Sadie alone, empty-handed into a haunted, boarded-up murder house with a shrug and an exchange with her dumbfounded friend that sounded like: “You sure you don’t want me to go in there with you, Sadie?” “No, you wait out here on this empty street. That way they can catch you alone, too.”

Nothing wrong with wanting escapist thrills to be written to acknowledge common sense, and that’s something the stalked and terrified characters in The Blackening (★★★☆☆) have in spades.

We do mean spades, as in the card game, just one of the Black American cultural touchstones that brought together and still bonds the film’s central group of college friends, reuniting 10 years post-graduation for a Juneteenth weekend retreat at a rented cabin in the woods.

After finding a mysterious board game called The Blackening inside the cabin, they exhibit enough collective common sense to pick up on signs they might be living a nightmare out of a slasher movie. First, there’s the talking centerpiece of the board, a deranged-looking Sambo who issues rules and game questions like “Name one Black character who survived a horror movie,” adding that wrong answers may be fatal.

Then, there’s the burly psycho in a stitched-up leather mask wielding a crossbow and a seemingly unlimited supply of arrows, intent on hunting them down one by one.

Their key to survival, and a strength of the script — by Harlem creator Tracy Oliver and Emmy-nominated The Amber Ruffin Show writer Dewayne Perkins — is that the friends in this group don’t let each other down. They may have their differences, but no one is disposable, raising the stakes during the ensuing stalk-and-chase sequences, directed with panache, if not precision, by Tim Story (Barbershop, Think Like a Man). 

An experienced hand at keeping comic banter bouncing, Story doesn’t really nail the scares, and occasionally undermines suspense with timing or framing that gives too much away. What hits is the comedy, drawn from the intended scariness of the situations, and from the well-delineated interpersonal conflicts that arise between these friends who have volumes of history, good and bad. Their robust sense of teamwork also amuses.

Perkins co-wrote himself a good part as Dewayne, the gay friend in the group, who’s quite dramatically pissed that macho Nnamdi (Sinqua Walls) was invited to this reunion, because years ago Nnamdi broke the heart of Lisa (Antoinette Robertson), who’s best friends with Allison (Harlem’s Grace Byers), who’s constantly the butt of jokes from reformed thug King (Melvin Gregg), while booze-slinging friend Shanika (X Mayo) cracks on everybody, though she stands up for her whole crew.

The entire cast — including Yvonne Orji and Jay Pharoah as reunion hosts Morgan and Shawn, and Jermaine Fowler as bespectacled black sheep (and weakest performance) of the bunch, Clifton — all get sharp jokes in chopping up questions around Blackness, the concept of which the film both reinforces and skewers with irreverent attitude and uproarious humor. 

Like Joel, the genius cameraman in Scream 2 who says “I’m out” after one sighting of Ghostface, these friends are well aware of how things often go for Black folks in horror movies — and they don’t want to be those victims. “We need a plan,” Dewayne insists. Whatever the plan is, according to this film, it’ll work best if they’re all in it together. 

The Blackening is playing in theaters nationwide, including Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas. Visit or

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