A Horror Movie That is Blackity-Black Black!
The Blackening is a racially- inspired, satirical horror-comedy in which eight friends have a Juneteenth reunion party in a cabin in the woods where they find themselves the victim of killer looking to take them out via a board game inspired by racist Blackface stereotypes. This movie gets a 10 from me. Here’s why:
Originality: This is actually a tricky one. Have a Black character in a film exhibit these characteristics is common, but have an entire movie with that those tropes at its center is unique, although having mainstream horror focusing on, what I’d call, “The Reality of Being Black in America”, is a newer things with movies like Nope and Get Out, both by Jordan Peele.
The common element come from what is common in the Black Community and what is slowly but surely becoming its own horror sub-genre.
Originality - 2 points
Character: The characters in this film truly represent the many facets of the metaphorical “Black American Diamond”. One of the groups traps, as was highlighted in the trailers and becomes a point of contention in the climax, involves the group choosing “Who is the Blackest of the group?”
“You’re actually from Africa, so you’re the Blackest” to “I’m mixed, so I’m only half-Black, as you like to remind me” to “you say the N-word more than anyone so you’re the Blackest” - in the end, they recognize the validity of all of their Blackness, regardless of what common Black stereotype they express.
As horror characters, they’re actually pretty smart, which isn’t as common in the horror genre, no matter who the characters are. They recognize the strength in number and figure practical and sensible solutions to basic problems. I typically say that “the horror movie begins when someone does something stupid” but there aren’t really a lot of mistakes made in this movie.
That’s why, outside of the two in the opening, all six of out ensemble cast survive.
The mistake made, or the “horror flaw” was mathematical. In the car ride with Allison, Lisa, and Dewayne, the group said there were eight people coming, but Dewayne was only aware of seven (as he wasn’t told about Lisa getting back with Nnamdi) so there should have only been eight total people.
That’s eight. If someone had just counted sooner, they’d realized that Clifton had no business being there. Also, Clifton was the one who was adamant about playing the game.
Otherwise, they were successful horror characters and honest representations of Black America.
Character - 2 points
Story: The story involves a group of friends who are having a college reunion in celebration of Juneteenth. The group finds a game and they play and the story plays out accordingly.
We have a few introductory scenes where we learn about the characters and how they relate to each other , for example, Lisa and Nnamdi used to date, but Nnamdi broke her heart and she’s been leaning on her gay best friend Dewayne for comfort and guidance, and upon what facet of the “Black American Diamond” they rest on, for example, King used to be a gangsta, but turned his life around and is married to a White woman, Allison is bi-racial with a White father and a Black mother, Nnamdi is African, etc.
They stumble upon a game in the Game Room, a room that was previously unlabeled and locked, and find a game called The Blackening, a board game who questions center on not-as typical culturally-relevant trivia like, “What many seasons was the ‘Dark-Skinned’ Aunt Viv on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air? or “What are the lyrics to the second verse of the Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing?
After a tricky question, the group is let out of the locked Game Room and they work together to save Morgan. Sadly, though a strong effort was made, they didn’t save Morgan though we also learn that their vehicle have be sabotaged and they aren’t just gonna drive away.
Running back into the Game Room, they are forced to continue playing the game and this is where they are forced to choose the “Blackest”. Clifton is chosen, not because he was the Blackest but because he didn’t belong there (mainly surrounding the fact that they don’t believe he was invited by Morgan as he claims and because he voted for Trump, twice.)
Instantly regretting their collective choice, they try to save Clifton, but the doors are locked after Clifton was “sacrificed” and they were forced to watch on the closed-circuit television.
From here, the group refuse to continue playing, knocking the board off the table. The Killer appears on the TV and declares their Sudden Death game - Survive.
They are released and given a three minute head start before they were to be hunted by the Killer. Some feel their chances are better outside with more space to run and hide. Other don’t want to be hunted in the woods and would rather stand their ground inside the house. So the group splits up, but not without acknowledging the dangers and saying their possibly final goodbyes.
The Outside group of Allison, Shanika, and King encounter The Killer, defy stereotypes, and kill The Killer! Unfortunately, this is where they realize there are TWO killers! In the house, when they tried to save Morgan, they injured the foot of the Killer coming after them. This Killer didn’t have the injury.
The Inside group of Dewayne, Lisa, and Nnamdi get chased outside where they find the White Park Ranger, who questioned King’s being at the house in the beginning of the film. He claims to be there to check on them, but because of the early interaction, they’re hesitant. They decide to trust him and as they’re about to drive away, the ranger decides to “go check things out”. This leads to his death and the Inside Group go back inside.
The Killer follows them inside and as they were cornered, the Outside group returns and injury the Killer before Lisa destroys the Killer, taking him clean out!
Assuming both killers were dead and that they were safe, they went to the basement where the Inside group had discovered a command center of sorts and thought it could help them call for help. Allison and King stay upstairs to keep watch (also, King is still hurt from earlier and Allison is impacted by an Adderall she mistakenly took earlier in the night) so Dewayne, Shanika, Nnamdi, and Lisa go to call for help.
In the basement they are confront by a still alive and disgruntled Clifton, who is the mastermind behind all of this, blaming the group for his legal problems stemming from a night that he was with them, got drunk, got upset, left drunk, and killed a woman in a drunk driving incident.
The group overcome the Clifton and the group walks away.
Awesome story. It was a horror movie that highlights the Black Community in an authentic light and whole group survived.
Story - 2 points
Ending: As mentioned, Clifton is revealed as the mastermind. The backstory circled a game of Spades with high money stakes. Clifton didn’t know how to play and when they let him, he reneged (short version, he played a suit that he previously indicated he no longer possessed), likely costing him and his partner the game.
Spades is that serious in the Black Community and when confronted with the unjust accosting, including a “revoking of his Black card” (a Corporal Punishment, of sorts), Clifton left drunk to escape the embarrassment, kills a woman by accident, serves time, and watches those that hurt him live their happy lives.
An overreaction? Of course. Blame shifting? Naturally. But tracks with what would probably happen? Yeah.
Upstairs, King and Allison realize that someone besides Clifton had to have control of the doors. Finding the remote on the dead Killer upstairs, they give their friends the advantage needed to kill Clifton, saving the group.
Ending - 2 points
Enjoyment: I loved this movie. For reasons I’m unsure about, I can’t call it a new favorite in an category, but it’ll hold a very special place in my heart and horror collection because of it’s comedy and representation.
On a personal note, I also understand the feeling of not “belonging” to the Black Community and feeling like I’m not “Black enough”. This is a real struggle that some people go through for a multitude of reasons. As such, watching this movie and being reminded that Black is Black regardless of the life you live (or the life you didn’t) was refreshing.
Thank you co-writers Tracy Oliver and Dewayne Perkins (who played Dewayne in the movie). I needed that.
Enjoyment - 2 point.
Total: 10 points