[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for The Blackening.]
The marketing campaign for The Blackening has been one of the funniest of 2023 so far, especially thanks to its tagline: “We Can’t All Die First.” Yet, someone has to in the Black-led horror comedy, and that person ended up being Jay Pharoah, who appears alongside Insecure‘s Yvonne Orij in the opening minutes of the film, as the first to be attacked by a wild crossbow-wielding killer. “We all can’t die first,” he laughs in an interview with Consequence. “Somebody had to do it, though.”
The funny thing is, the Saturday Night Live alumnus notes, is that “this is not the first movie that I’ve gotten killed in. I’ve been killed so many times. I just hope it never happens in real life because people have that much respect for me and they wouldn’t try to attempt it. I’ve been blown up. I’ve been shocked to death. I’ve fallen off of a second story to my death, busted my head. To get killed like this, it’s different. But I sold it.”
The Blackening takes a classic horror movie trope: A group of friends go to a cabin in the woods for a relaxing weekend, only to find themselves terrorized by a malevolent force. The twist here is that the entire friend group is Black, and all too aware of those aforementioned horror movie tropes, leading to a gleefully self-referential comedy that still delivers some scares.
It’s more funny than it is scary, though, thanks to the wit of the ensemble cast, which includes Grace Byers, Jermaine Fowler, Melvin Gregg, X Mayo, Dewayne Perkins, Antoinette Robertson, and Sinqua Walls in addition to Pharoah, and some improv on top of the sharp script by Tracy Oliver and Perkins. In fact, Pharoah’s last line in the film, “the line I said before I died,” was improvised. “It’s crazy when you’re acting, when you’re in the moment and you think about something and you say to yourself, I think this is funny, I think this will work. Nine times out of 10, if you have that feeling, go for it, because it will work — [this time], it ended up being a moment in the movie.”
While his castmates didn’t give him any grief over his character being the first to go, Pharoah says he did get some feedback from his family. “They don’t like me dying. They’re like, ‘Hey, next time you get a role, you better live all the way to the end. ‘At least make it through to the last five minutes, baby’ — that’s what my mom always says, shout out to Ramona.”