So many horror films begin with a group of friends arriving at a cabin in the woods. Inevitably, most of them will get hacked or stabbed to death, but only a handful of films actually utilise this set-up for its full potential.
Tim Story, together with writers Tracy Oliver and Dewayne Perkins, takes that well-worn horror trope and turns it into a splattery, spooky comedy for the masses. Beware, The Blackening is certainly much more of a comedy than a horror film, but in its best moments, it strikes a delicate balance between the two genres.
The premise is deliciously simple: a group of friends arrive at a rented house to celebrate Juneteenth, but come face-to-face with a sadistic, masked killer who is hell-bent on killing each and every one of the group.
The Blackening constantly plays around with stereotypes, horror tropes and the audience’s expectations. There is no Final Girl to be found here; all of the characters, especially the women, are more than capable of taking care of themselves. The film doesn’t particularly sway away from the usual slasher narrative, but the humour is what brings The Blackening alive.
With a swift runtime of 97 minutes, The Blackening struggles to make the characters feel like real human beings with personalities and a life outside of the film’s plot. Thankfully, the excellent cast are more than up for the challenge. Perkins, who stars as Dewayne, threatens to steal the entire show and Antoinette Robertson brings great warmth to the film as Lisa.
Grace Byers’ Allison is a particular highlight. She’s bi-racial and her ‘blackness’ is often in question, something she continuously challenges. This is where The Blackening is at its best, making sharp observations, without ever sacrificing its entertainment value.
Story’s film definitely owes a thing or two to Jordan Peele, whose film Get Out brought a monumental shift to the whole film industry. Thankfully, The Blackening never attempts to be the new Get Out, but treats its themes with humour. The Blackening was conceived as a sketch and that shows; despite a script with occasional brilliance, the film struggles to find the real meat of the story.
It’s a shame there isn’t much mystery about the film’s killer. With such a limited scope, it’s blatantly obvious what’s going on and I can’t help but feel that there was a better, more clever way of structuring the film or at least adding a bit more mystique to it. While it doesn’t exactly ruin The Blackening, the audience feels a bit cheated out of what should be a big revelation.
What’s more, Story’s film could have leaned harder on the horror elements of the story. As said, The Blackening is clearly more of a comedy by design. The gore here is minimal and whilst the killer’s weapon choice, a crossbow, feels like an inspired choice, it’s not really used to its maximum potential. If The Blackening was a bit scarier, a big gorier, it would also amplify the comedy of it all, rather than overpower it.
The Blackening never really ascends to that higher level of being. It’s perfectly entertaining, but there’s so much potential here that feels unexplored. The ending of the film, which you can see coming a mile away, feels rushed and a little superficial. Because we know next to nothing about these characters, most of it just rings hollow. The first hour is excellent, but the final act proves frustrating.
The Blackening proudly stands next to films like Scream, Cabin in the Woods and Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil as a viciously funny horror-comedy and a sharp meta narrative about the whole genre. It’s just a shame it slightly fumbles the bag at the very end.
The Blackening is in cinemas 23 August.