Where movies like Scream deconstruct sadism but also appeal to our cruel side, this cabin-in-the-woods movie about what it means to be scared of difference, which boasts an almost entirely black cast, is brazenly sweet. There will be blood? Not really – director Tim Story is pretty abstemious where the claret is concerned and has little time for torture porn, possibly because – vis a vis serving up brutalised, black bodies – his view is, “Enough already!”
The Blackening, which is co-written by Tracy Oliver (the woman behind bawdy, hugely successful buddy comedy, Girls Trip) is well-acted, suspenseful and funny, and has a great joke about a pair of awesome trousers. Made for $5 million, this movie is truly a little gem.
A group of friends who all met at college converge at a remote cottage, and the first to arrive stumble across a racist cultural trivia quiz, aka The Blackening. The so-called game targets the “Blackest” person in the room and is rigged by an unseen and homicidal figure who clearly isn’t in the mood to party.
Hours later, Lisa (Antoinette Robertson) arrives with her best friends Allison (Grace Byers) and Dewayne (Dewayne Perkins, who co-wrote the script). Soon, this trio – along with various other pals, plus Lisa’s flaky ex-boyfriend, Nnamdi (Sinqua Walls) and nerdy, Trump-loving hanger-on Clifton (Jermaine Fowler) – are the ones dodging the killer’s crossbow.
Don’t expect this to be as disturbing or sharp as Jordan Peele’s Get Out (the final twist can be filed under b, for balderdash). But it’s similar to, and a whole lot smarter than, 2016 farce Keanu, which Peele starred in and helped write.
There’s a point when, with early scenes showing Lisa and Allison reading each other’s minds, and swooning over a buff guy’s torso, the stage seems set for a caper dominated by the themes of sisterhood and female desire. As it happens, though, the male characters have interior lives worth exploring. And it’s strangely pleasant to have a rummage in the brains of Nnamdi and Clifton, not to mention the effervescent Dewayne.
Let’s hope UK audiences show up for a satire that, at its best, is as big-hearted and subversive as Rian Johnson’s Knives Out.
In cinemas from Friday
96 mins, cert 15