Thursday, June 15, 2023

The Blackening

Movies based on comedy sketches have a pretty spotty track-record. Remember films like It’s Pat and Night at the Roxbury? The trend continues. The misses out-number the hits in this slasher satire, but the shortage of kills really undermines the genre cred of Tim Story’s The Blackening, which opens tomorrow in theaters.

There is a cabin in the woods and there is an evil game, like
Uncanny Annie, Game of Death, Ouija, Beyond the Gates, or whatever. The twist is this sinister board game has a blatantly racist theme. If you do not play you die. If you do play, you probably still die, but at least you play for some time. It did not work out so well in the prologue for Morgan and Shawn, the organizers of this weekend reunion for their old college friends. At first, they were psyched to see their Airbnb had a game room, but then the “Blackening” game sealed their fate.

Of course, they are nowhere to be found when the rest of the guests show up. Nevertheless, they all pick right back up where they left off, playing the same drinking games and busting the same chops. However, they are surprised to learn the strait-laced Clifton was also invited. They never really liked him, so when the game calls for a scapegoat, he is the one they chose.

It is not like they really wanted to play. Unfortunately, the unseen host has remote control over all the doors and windows. The Jigsaw-like figure is also holding one of their friends, so they really do not have much choice. Yet, for horror (ostensibly), the ultimate survival rate is bizarrely high.

The Blackening is not nearly as clever as it thinks it is. It wants the respect of The Menu or Us, but it is written at a level that is barely a step above the Scary Movie franchise. By far, the film’s best elements are the character of Clifton and Jermaine Fowler’s portrayal of the unexpected guest, both of which are so sharp, they largely subvert screenwriters Tracy Oliver and Dewayne Perkins’ exhaustingly didactic messaging.

Sadly, the rest of the characters are largely stock cliches (the ladies man, the flamboyant gay bestie, etc.). There is even a “token” white guy, Officer White (played by Diedrich Bader from
The Drew Carey Show). It is all very predictable, but the inventively nasty design of the “Blackening” game is certainly memorable.

Blackening viewing experience is very much like that of a variety show comedy sketch. It is very much a hit or miss affair. Reportedly, it originated on Comedy Central, which most people probably did not realize was still broadcasting. You have to love those cable carriage fees, if you are an under-watched network. Despite a decent energy level, The Blackening is not consistently funny enough to recommend when it open tomorrow (6/16) in New York, including the AMC Empire.