I have a very complicated history with horror comedies as a Black kid that grew up in the 90s. The few times we were in the movie, we were still almost exclusively relegated to the smallest roles. Roles that were usually harmful stereotypes. This is why I didn’t find them funny so much as a subgenre to be studied. It is also why I, and many horror fans who look like me, were excited to see The Blackening announced. With the tagline, “We can’t all die first,” it managed to call out the ongoing Black guy dies first trope. It also promised us some of us were going to make it out alive.
The Blackening follows a group of friends who head out to the woods to celebrate Juneteenth. In true horror fashion they find themselves trapped in the familiar cabin slasher scenario. However, this time it’s very different. Instead of having 0-2 Black characters, we have 9. This disrupts the broken system and gives this horror subgenre a much-needed breath of fresh air. It leads to something that feels like a mix of the first two Scary Movie installments (also known as the ones where the Wayans were still in charge), Clue, and a heavy sprinkle of The Cabin in the Woods. It also embraces and enjoys being conceived in a post-Scream landscape.
Also Read: ‘The Blackening’ Interview: Director Tim Story and Co-Writer Tracy Oliver Discuss Their Creative Processes [Video]
Photo Credit: Glen Wilson
In the first moments of the film, Morgan and Shawn (played by Yvonne Orji and Jay Pharaoh, respectively) set the tone as they tease out what we have come to expect from the opening scene of a slasher. However, instead of falling into the usual routine, they discover a very unsettling and deadly game that is the first hint of the central mystery. By the time the rest of the friend group arrives, we cannot help but be excited to see how they navigate this scenario. Although it is way too obvious whodunnit in the first 15-ish minutes, I still had a good time anyway.
The Blackening has the DNA of Robert Townsend comedies and various members of the Wayans comic dynasty filtered through a horror lens. The jokes that work led to full cackles and some crying from the audience I watched it with. We also have two standout performers in Dewayne (played by Dewayne Perkins) and Shanika (played by X Mayo). I look forward to how those characters will be received the most. While every member of the ensemble has moments, Perkins and Mayo got the loudest laughs for the duration of the movie.
Also Read: ‘The Blackening’ Cast Reveal The Horror Movies That Scare Them the Most [Video Interview]
Photo Credit: Glen Wilson
The Blackening navigates what it was sold as, while also having to worry about broader consumer appeal. It’s a mix of jokes that feel steeped in Black culture alongside some that let outsiders in just a bit. This also prevents the film from being shoved into just one box to be easily written off by Twitter trolls. It can always go bigger, and it often does. It’s a very difficult road to walk, but they do a pretty good job of it.
Many people will try to equate The Blackening with something in their limited knowledge of Black cinema. This is a crime because it’s definitely its own thing. It is giving us complicated relationships, relatable friend dynamics, Spades, vodka Kool-Aid, and even a little bit of love for “Black Aunt Viv.” This is new, refreshing, fun, and in a perfect world a turning point for horror comedies. It should be a wake-up call that Black people can inhabit this subgenre in a way few filmmakers seem to want to comprehend. However, I know better than to get my hopes up.
Watch the trailer for The Blackening:
Are you planning to see The Blackening this weekend? Then let me know what you think about it at @misssharai.
‘The Blackening’ is a laugh-out-loud love letter to Black horror fans. Everyone should see it at least twice. It has the DNA of Robert Townsend comedies and various members of the Wayans comic dynasty filtered through a horror lens. We also get the privilege to live through this one.