[Review] THE BLACKENING (2023, Lionsgate) Story Gets the Fright Right

Seven Black friends from college reunite to celebrate Juneteenth weekend at a cabin in the woods. By
nightfall, they find themselves in a horror movie scenario, where any one of them could die first. “The
Blackening” is a feature adaptation of a viral 2018 comedy short of the same name. The short was
written by actor Dewayne Perkins. He returns for the feature and teams up with co-writer Tracy Oliver
(“Girls Trip”) to further flesh out the characters and dialogue.

The clever nature of the satire in “The Blackening” puts it in the ranks of “Clue,” “Cabin in the Woods”
and “Game Night” for entertainment value and rewatchability. The film knows its audience and its genre
and provides a satisfying comedic roller coaster of sharp dialogue, social satire and effective crowd
pleasing moments. It is a talkback movie and it welcomes that. The film has a sharp pace as it builds on
and maintains its tension, both comedic and menacing. Creepy moments and jump scares are timed well
for audience participation and reaction. [The film had its 2023 Tribeca Festival New York premiere at
Harlem’s Apollo Theater to a packed house filled with laughter, screams and cheers].

Antoinette Robertson as Lisa in The Blackening. Photo Credit: Glen Wilson

“The Blackening“ is directed by Tim Story (“Barbershop,” “Think Like a Man”). Story, an accomplished
comedic director, tries his hand at the horror genre and does an admirable job. With strong
cinematography by Todd A. Dos Reis and music by Dexter Story, “The Blackening,” looks and sounds like
a horror film played straight. The tension and threat, however over-the-top, is real. It is how the distinct
characters respond to the situation that makes the humor quite effective.

The film opens with a pre-title sequence any fans of “Scream” or “Friday the 13th” movies will likely
brace. Yvonne Orji (“Insecure”) and Jay Pharoah (“SNL”) as doomed couple Morgan and Shawn awaiting
the arrival of their friends for the weekend at the rented cabin. The pair help set the tone for the humor
of the rest of the film. A subtle fourth wall-breaking gag involves the pair realizing they are similar in
demographic notoriety as actors Omar Epps and Jada Pinkett Smith were in the opening of “Scream 2.”
That didn’t end well for them either.

Yvonne Orji as Morgan and Jay Pharaoh as Shawn in The Blackening. Photo Credit: Glen Wilson

The film’s strong suit is the energetic, diverse and charismatic ensemble of actors. They have great
onscreen chemistry and comedic flair. The characters on their own and in their relationships are
nuanced and well-drawn. The film treats them with respect and gives each actor moments to shine.

Antoinette Robertson (“Dear White People” series) and Dewayne Perkins as Lisa and Dewayne provide
the film’s emotional center as BFFs who look out for each other. Their friendship is tested when Lisa
rekindles a romance with her cheating ex Nnamdi (Sinqua Walls) who Dewayne disapproves of. Grace
Byers as Allison also shares a close bond with Lisa in some of the film’s funniest non-verbal interactions.
Melvin Gregg as tough-as-nails King has mellowed out since getting married. X Mayo as party girl
Shanika proves to be a formidable ally when things start to get scary. Rounding out the cast is comedian
Jermaine Fowler as the often ignored and most likely uninvited Clifton. Fowler delivers his lines in a soft,
nerdy tone that brings to mind a Steve Urkel-type by way of a genius Robert Townsend influence. If
there is a chance at a franchise, this might just be a “Fast and Furious” of horror comedy cast to keep an
eye on.

  • Brian W. Smith, THE BLACKENING
Brian W Smith