1 of 5 | The horror-comedy "The Blackening" opens in theaters on Friday. Photo courtesy of Glen Wilson/Lionsgate
NEW YORK, June 12 (UPI) -- Snowfall actor Melvin Gregg and Saturday Night Live alum Jay Pharoah say they wanted to star in the film, The Blackening, because it is a horror-comedy that offers a completely unique point of view.
Directed by Tim Story and written by Tracy Oliver and Dewayne Perkins, the movie is set for theatrical release on Friday after premiering at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.
It places nine Black former college roommates in a remote cabin for a weekend reunion in honor of the Juneteenth holiday.
"For me, the opportunity to work with Tim Story was first and foremost and then just the voice of the characters and the tone of the comedy was really attractive to me," Gregg told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.
Gregg had been wanting to do a comedy for the last couple of years when the script for this came his way.
"I've wanted to do some fun, light-hearted stuff," he said. "This isn't as light-hearted, but it is fun and it's community."
In the film, the friends soon discover their hosts have gone missing and their rented house has a secret room containing a racially charged board game that challenges them to sacrifice each other based on how Black they think each person is or else face death at the hands of a grotesque, mask-wearing, crossbow-wielding killer.
"The idea is innovative," said Pharoah. "It's something that has never been shown before, never been done before."
Pharoah praised the talent of the cast -- which includes Gregg, Perkins, Grace Byers, Jermaine Fowler, X Mayo, Antoinette Robertson, Sinqua Walls and Yvonne Orji.
Even though there were so many hilarious people gathered in one place, it was not difficult for the actors to pretend they were terrified, according to the stars.
"If you tap into being scared, it really doesn't matter who's around," Gregg said. "Everyone's just reacting to what's going on in their own way. Nobody's trying to upstage anyone else with a louder scream or trying to make you laugh."
Pharoah agreed that the cast members were all supportive of each other.
"Everybody knows how to give each other their moments without it feeling like a cluster," he said.
Dangerous props and a creepy set helped the actors do their work.
"We saw the crossbows, but it was from a distance," Gregg said. "The mask was definitely scary and the idea of not knowing or seeing what it is [hunting the characters] is also scary.
"Darkness and silence were probably the scariest things," he added.
Pharoah described the house itself as "petrifying."
"The house lent perfectly to the mood of the movie," he said. "Everything just worked."
Gregg said his settled-down former gangster character King is trying to shed an image he had in college when viewers meet him in the film.
"He's trying to fight against that and allow his friends to see him in a different light and, also, just leaning into the growth that he's had over time," he said. "He's trying to prove himself to be something outside of what they thought he was."
Pharoah called his character Shawn "adventurous and curious."
"He had his girl's back," Pharoah said, referring to Orji's character Morgan.
"He wanted to make sure she was straight. He was like: 'Baby, we're going to be alright. Nothing bad can happen.' My character was optimistic. Super-optimistic. You'll have somebody like that in the group."
Oliver pointed out how rare it is to see Black characters at the center of a horror movie and not just playing supporting parts in narratives with White characters in the leads.
"I was like, 'What happens when they are the stars of their own horror and what decisions do they make and how do they use their own survival instincts?'" she said.
"What I loved about Dewayne's original short [film] was that he was questioning what it means to be Black because there are so many types of Blackness and so many types of people and cultural backgrounds that all get folded under this label of 'Black.'"
By the end of the movie, audiences should understand that there is no one way to be Black.
"We should kind of think about that when we are putting labels on people," Oliver said.
Story said he, Oliver and Perkins worked hard to strike the perfect balance between laughs and thrills here.
"The script gave me a great foundation in terms of what was going to be funny," he added.
"Then when it came to the horror, I was able to explore a little bit more in terms of the environment, the set. I learned that, when it came to jump scares, you could never have too many of them."