But you could at least give it a red hot go
dir: Tim Story
I will be the first to admit, and honestly have to be the first to admit, that I am not the target audience for this movie. My opinion about this movie, like all my opinions about anything, are therefore even more important / authoritative than usual (ie. utterly worthless).
I am, however, a fan of movies / pop culture, and in the American context, of Black cinema / African-American cinema. I went into this assuming this flick, ostensibly a horror flick, was specifically about playing with the tropes of horror movies in terms of how poorly they serve African-American characters usually, but what I ended up getting was vastly different.
Tim Story is probably best known for directing Barbershop way back in the day, if he is known by international audiences at all. I am not sure that he would be well known as the director of the pretty terrible Fantastic Four movies, or the very ordinary Ride Along movies, or the terrible *belches loudly* Think Like a Man movies.
So, whatever. I have no doubt he has fans, and that he’s a talented, commercial director, in all senses of the word. He is a very successful African-American director, and he certainly has knowledge and a feel for how African-Americans are portrayed in movies, because he’s in the business of portraying them for fun and profit, and has been for decades.
This flick is replete with references that will fly by most people, I would guess, and I say that as someone who gets the references, but only because I’ve watched everything and remember all the dumbest, lamest trivia from any old tv show you care to mention. I also remember the various controversies that arose with many of those shows, like who got fired and why, and who they were replaced with, because… Well, I don’t really have an explanation for it.
My one seemingly negative point is that the characters in this film are too young to actually know everything about Fresh Prince of Bel Air or Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, because they’re at least twenty years too young for that to be the case, but what do I know? It is still potent and funny to hear all the endless referencing and theorising, and how it pertains to what the flick is really about.
It’s not, as I might have implied earlier, really a horror flick. It has all the tropes, jump scares, lights going out, all that shit, but it’s not really convincing as a horror flick, but that’s not to the flick’s detriment at all. It is a comedy about class consciousness, code-switching, gatekeeping, self-policing and the casual manner in which African-Americans will routinely lambaste or tear down each other for not being “black” enough.
It’s all meant to be fun and games, but the killer at the centre of everything that’s happening (in a plot that is beyond implausible even for a horror-satire-comedy), is doing all of this because of a throwaway line someone said several years ago questioning their blackness.
From little things big things like murder grow…
A bunch of friends are reuniting at a cabin in the woods to celebrate Juneteenth and to catch up. Most if not all of them have been friends since college, like ten years ago, so they’re early thirties maybe?
Plus there’s a guy called Clifton (Jermaine Fowler), and no-one can remember inviting him, but they recognise him, even if they can’t always remember his name. Clifton is…well, this flick is not going to be accused of being sharp or incisive satire – it’s broad as fuck. The character is basically a grown-up Urkell, and it’s pretty hard to watch. If this flick has points to make beyond racism, and it probably does, at the very least the point is that people with facial differences or disabilities are probably out to get you.
Clifton is harmless enough, but he’s not very likeable. The rest of the friends are distinctive enough to stand out, but in very recognisable, very familiar ways, so they’re kind-of stereotypes to a certain extent, but not to a harmful extent.
They are all aware that they’re in a horror film, and they all know and dread all of the horror tropes as they usually relate to black characters in horror movies. But when the games begin, games as in they get trapped in a room and have to answer stupid questions or die, instead of their blackness (or lack thereof) being what seals their fate, it’s their knowledge of black pop culture that will either save them or damn them.
That and the masked killer who stalks them with arrows and… other stuff.
I did laugh a fair bit, I will admit, and gladly at that. I don’t think it really works beyond being a goofy comedic parody, but the references, like the perfect joke about what civil rights activist Rosa Parks would or would not be doing in a situation like this is both particular and funny.
But the fact is for a lot of (non-African-American) audiences the references (as an example, to “light skinned Aunt Viv versus dark skinned Aunt Viv” aren’t going to amount to much or even resonate that much even if there was a Clifton-like explainer there to mansplain or blacksplain the context for them. I think it was probably geared specifically towards a cinema crowd, and possibly a raucous crowd at that, one which I am not a part of (boo hoo me).
For all that it calls out certain characters for their actions or for how they regard each other, it’s almost impossible to take the criticism even remotely seriously. No-one’s actions, murderous or otherwise, amount to a hill of beans, and nor should they. The one time the characters actively make a choice to damn one of their own, on the grounds of “blackness”, they actually make the decision for completely different reasons (ie, someone admitting they voted for Trump, not once but twice), and then their selfish choice is negated anyway.
It's fun, and funny, but not much more from that. I did love that they namechecked legendary rapper Nas early on, and then perfectly dropped Made You Look into a lethal fight scene. And I actually thought the construction of the Friends joke / game question worked perfectly on a number of levels, a whole number of levels. And while there’s a reference to Jordan Peele’s Get Out in no way is it trying to match that level of filmmaking.
I appreciated seeing Diedrich Bader in a small part as Ranger White, (and as the token good guy white guy) who starts off as an antagonist but then indicates his allyship in the most ridiculous and convoluted (but still appreciated) manner possible with a cookout analogy that makes sense all the same.
It shouldn’t get a sequel but it probably will. It’s fine as it is, but I guess Scary Movie got three more sequels than it probably should have.
8 times it will never not be funny to watch someone go to all the trouble of pulling an arrow out of their shoulder only to get another arrow in the same exact spot out of 10
“All lives matter.” – first clue as to who the villain was - The Blackening