Toronto 2022 Review: The Blackening
The horror comedy is a tricky genre to nail. Conventional logic might tell you that the difficulty comes from balancing the two halves of the equation; there’s an idea that the key to a great horror comedy is ensuring that the scares work above all else. And yes, many pinnacles of the genre — Scream, Shaun of the Dead — do this fairly well, but I tend to think that approach can lead you astray. Too often across the spectrum of horror comedies (and action comedies too) I see what reads like a late concern that the balance might be off, which leads to very funny movies whose third acts turn into slogs as they try to jam all the genre elements in at the expense of the comedy. What The Blackening gets right — despite its other limitations — is an understanding that as long as you have a clear facility with the language of horror, you can foreground the comedy without worrying so much about pleasing some potential diehard horror audience that needs to be legitimately scared. If it’s funny enough, a lack of frights is easily forgiven.
The near-fatal flaw with The Blackening, written by Dewyane Perkins and Tracy Oliver and directed by journeyman Tim Story, isn’t that it’s not funny: it’s that it takes far too long for the comedy to gain traction. The film is based on and expanded from a short, very smart sketch by 3Peat Comedy, and there’s a palpable sense that a feature-length extension just wasn’t as feasible as one would have hoped. The first act is particularly dire, almost thirty minutes of set-up (for a 96-minute film) that feels more like treading water to pad the runtime than anything else. But if you can make it past that first chunk, things start to pick up steam fairly quickly once the premise — a group of friends trapped in a remote cabin are forced to play an overtly racist board game and evade slasher-style killers to avoid a grisly fate — kicks into gear. The cast is filled with skilled comedians, and though the film unfortunately seems determined to spend more time than necessary on various interpersonal dynamics, they’re cut loose often enough to keep the laughs coming at a steady rate. It’s not very scary, and it takes a little too long to find its groove comedically, but if you’re in the mood for some new voices in the horror comedy space, The Blackening does ultimately deliver on its promise.