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Blackout Film Review: Aimless Creature Feature

A hand of a monster is in the foreground with the figure of a woman in the background in the film Blackout

Blackout presents riveting themes but injects too many concepts into the story. The result is a surface-level narrative that fails to reach its full potential.

In the opening scene of Blackout, the camera zeroes in on a couple engaging in physical intimacy within a field. What may be a taboo and fun experience for the exhibitionist lovers is an anxiety-inducing ordeal for viewers who witness the sexual act through the eyes of a monster. The couple strips down, a yet-to-be-seen predator draws near, and the uncertainty of what might happen next immediately raises the stakes. And though Larry Fessenden’s werewolf feature starts strong, its attempts at exploring various themes result in an aimless narrative that struggles to tie them together. Blackout also fails to provide sufficient character development to elevate the ideas within the story. 

When introduced to Blackout’s leading man, Charley (Alex Hurt, of Glob Lessons), viewers are promptly given insight into his current state of mind. As the camera slowly pans around a motel room full of mysterious artwork, photos of Charley as a child with his father, and an obituary, it’s evident that each intricate detail presented in the scene holds significant value. The illustrations scattered throughout Charley’s room reveal that he is a werewolf and grieving the recent loss of his father. Later, we discover that Charley has a complex past with his previous partner, Sharon (Addison Timlin). He is besotted with his former flame, though she has since moved on. Sharon is the daughter of Jack Hammond (Marshall Bell, of Total Recall), an authoritative figure in Talbot Falls, where Charley used to reside. Now, he frequently visits. 

Hammond is pushing for the “Hilltop Resort Project” to be brought to fruition. However, Charley is skeptical about the venture as impact studies revealed that the expansion could contaminate the area’s water supply. Conveniently, Charley’s father used to be Hammond’s lawyer, and since his dad’s death, Charley has discovered legal documents hinting at shady business practices concerning the project’s approval. Charley turns to his lawyer friend Kate, played by Barbara Crampton—who gives a delightful, albeit incredibly brief performance—to help decipher the legal jargon in the documents.

However, he warns his trusty confidant that he won’t be in town much longer. The town folk all appear to like our protagonist, though he often disappears without notice or reason for extended periods. The community is also dealing with a string of unsolved murders, which the mean-spirited, prejudiced Hammond blames on a Latino local named Miguel (Rigo Garay). Yet, Miguel claims to be a witness to the most recent double homicide and is adamant that a monster was responsible for their death.

A young man looks scared while driving a car in the film Blackout
Blackout (MPI Media Group / Dark Sky Films)

If you found all the above elements intriguing, you share the same feelings I had during my viewing experience. However, the film’s exciting premise runs out of momentum rapidly. Though Blackout’s themes highlight the significant societal effects of grief, the consequences of political corruption on local communities, and the impact of slander and discrimination toward minorities in America, the feature lacks a thorough exploration of each. Ultimately, Blackout’s downfall is overburdening itself with too many concepts while abandoning necessary character development in its wake.

Supporting characters exist merely as plot devices to move the narrative forward, and none are compelling enough to affect the viewer and create a profound connection with the audience. Hammond, the mastermind behind the dreaded Hilltop Resort Project, is absent for most of Blackout’s runtime. A villainous character living in the shadows can build suspense, but that isn’t the case here. The repercussions of Hammond’s careless decisions and discriminatory nature aren’t built upon, and thirty minutes into the film, I forgot that he even existed. Similarly, Miguel isn’t a fully developed character, prevailing mostly as a witness to the couple’s murder at the beginning of the feature. I would have loved for Blackout to dig more into the themes of discrimination within the community, but this important theme remains largely unexplored throughout the film.

Blackout’s most riveting scenes occur when Charley transforms into a werewolf, giving the audience a hint of excitement. However, these moments are few and far between. Viewers hoping for a full-on monster movie experience jam-packed with gore will likely be disappointed. Instead, the creature element feels like a random afterthought that doesn’t mesh well with the other themes Blackout attempts to delve into. This is a shame, given that the practical effects are phenomenal, particularly Charley’s creature design. There is some bloodshed, but it simply isn’t enough to satisfy a horror fan’s itch.

When the town folk finally gather in the last 15 minutes of the film as Blackout attempts to give viewers a sense of community among them, the characters’ interactions feel unrealistic, and overly exaggerated. By the film’s close, Blackout is entirely out of its depth as it struggles to piece together an excessive number of themes sufficiently. I really wanted to love Blackout, but overall, the creature feature is a narrative in dire need of a definitive direction.

Get it on Apple TV

Blackout was screened at the Overlook Film Festival on April 5, 2024. The film will be available to watch on digital and VOD on April 12, 2024, from MPI Media Group / Dark Sky Films. Watch Blackout!

Blackout: Trailer (MPI Media Group / Dark Sky Films)

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