Embracing Mortality: 'The Blackening' Breathes Life into 'We Can't All Die First


Embracing Mortality: 'The Blackening' Breathes Life into 'We Can't All Die First
Embracing Mortality: 'The Blackening' Breathes Life into 'We Can't All Die First

In the realm of promotional lines, "We can't all die first" from the movie "The Blackening" stands out as a gem. Naturally, there needed to be more certainty about whether the film could live up to its clever tagline. However, much like other self-referential horror/comedies (the "Scream" franchise comes to mind), this movie adeptly fulfills its premise, extracting abundant life from its satirical concept and offering many crowd-pleasing moments.

Originally conceived as a comedy sketch, the idea was expanded into a full-length feature script by comedian Dewayne Perkins, who collaborated with Tracy Oliver ("Girls Trip") before handing it over to director Tim Story ("Barbershop").

The film's small-scale setting, predominantly confined to a remote cabin in the woods, actually works to its advantage. This tight focus enables the narrative to develop characters often sidelined in traditional horror films deliberately.

Yes, in those films, people of color frequently meet their demise early on, ranking just behind sexually active teenagers in terms of mortality rate.

Reunion Unleashes Faceless Menace

The Story wastes no time establishing the premise, as a group of former college friends gathers for a 10-year reunion intertwined with a Juneteenth celebration.

Each person brings their share of emotional baggage, including past relationships and strained friendships, all of which will be severely tested by the presence of a faceless maniac determined to kill them. In a twist reminiscent of "Jumanji," the group stumbles upon a game that the unseen assailant forces them to play.

Apart from creating a sense of jeopardy, the game's questions offer opportunities to riff on various pop culture minutiae, from "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" trivia to debates about the popular sitcom "Friends." Moreover, the movie cleverly drops numerous wry horror references, ranging from "Get Out" to "The People Under the Stairs." The ensemble cast comprises Grace Byers ("Empire"), Jermaine Fowler, Melvin Gregg, X Mayo, Dewayne Perkins, Antoinette Robertson, and Sinqua Walls (recently featured in Hulu's "White Men Can't Jump" remake).

Their performances exude infectious chemistry and suggest they enjoyed playing off each other's energy. Beneath the film's comedic facade lies a poignant exploration of how race has subtly and not-so-subtly influenced movie conventions over the decades.

As Perkins stated in an interview with the New York Times, the broader issue at play involves feeling marginalized, with horror acting as a proxy for other societal institutions. While not excessively reliant on gore, Story wisely incorporates enough horror elements to generate tension amidst the laughter, recognizing that horror, more than comedy, has been one of the most enduring genres at the box office since the onset of the pandemic.

Considering the movie's modest budget, it is not difficult to envision "The Blackening" emerging as a sleeper hit in summer blockbusters—potentially not just surviving but thriving. Such an outcome would undoubtedly be the sweetest revenge, perfectly aligned with the film's central conceit.