Director Tim’s storyit’s the slasher Blackening has a murderous premise: if all the characters are black, who dies first? In 3peat’s Comedy Central short film adaptation, the co-writers Dewayne Perkins and Tracy Olivier beach a group of friends in a secluded cabin in the woods for Juneteenth (yes holiday horror!). Unbeknownst to them, the weekend is more than just a reunion: they’re pitted against a Machiavellian gamemaster bent on deciphering their level of darkness in order to kill them in the proper order.
While the film is not Scream meta levels, Blackening fuses social commentary on the black experience in contemporary America with slasher conventions in a very entertaining way. It doesn’t hurt that the characters are extremely likable – to the point that when the bloodshed begins, you worry about their survival because no one is expendable.
Reuniting for a weekend of spades and drinking after a ten-year hiatus, the group consists of attorney Lisa (Antoinette Robertson), her former boyfriend (and current secret lover) Nnamdi (Sinqua Walls), and his gay best friend Dwayne (Perkins) who still hasn’t forgiven Nnamdi for breaking Lisa’s heart in college. There is also the lovely drunken Shanika (X-Mayo), the dancer King (Melvin Gregg), light-skinned slightly neurotic Allison (Grace Byer) and the clumsy outcast Clifton (Jermaine Fowler).
The band’s story has already been unpacked on the road and at The Texas Chainsaw Massacregas station long before the group arrives at the lavish deserted cabin in the woods. They are greeted by the possibly racist Agent White (Diedrich Bader)…which is white (one of the wackiest jokes in the film), then explore the house, which has no shortage of closed and/or hidden rooms.
It takes a while before the group realizes they’ve lost a few friends: those who organized the weekend, Morgan and Shawn (Yvonne Orji and Jay Pharaoh), were MIA all afternoon (they died, of course, dead in the open).
The plot kicks into high gear when the group discovers a large game room whose centerpiece is a table with “The Blackening”, a board game with a talking centerpiece in Jim Crow-inspired blackface. When they are locked up and Seen-instructions are provided by the evil character via television, the game begins and their knowledge of black culture – from the two Aunt Vivs The prince of Bel-Air to five black actors who invited Friends – is tested. Mess up a question and the results are fatal.
While kills them in Blackening are decent and the killer’s choice of weapon (a crossbow) is novel, it’s the comedy and camaraderie between the friends that makes the film stand out. Not only do these characters fight and support each other like true friends, but Perkins and Oliver’s storyline is also filled to the brim with clever and savvy jokes. The movie is legitimately hilarious, tackling everything from obvious stereotypes to ingrained cultural biases within the band. This includes Allison’s frustration when her friends selectively refer to her biracial status, King’s wife (never seen) is often described as “white” (she is Armenian), and Nnamdi is seen as the blackest because that his father is from Africa (he, meanwhile, was born in Oakland).
There are no weak links in the cast, but as the loudest characters with the biggest personalities, Mayo and Perkins stand out in a crowded field. Watching Shanika cheer against the stereotype that she can’t swim or inadvertently feed Allison Aderall instead of a painkiller (and then apologize for the rest of the movie) is extremely funny. Ditto Perkins who manages to execute Dwayne’s emotional friendship arc as easily as he drops the hole to dance for his friends when the Molly hits.
There are probably many other jokes that hit black audiences differently, but the reality is that Blackening is a versatile crowd pleaser that will work for everyone. The humor is successful, the violence is amusing and often cheeky, and the characters are endearing. In a slasher movie, that’s saying a lot!
Blackening premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.