While Larry Fessenden has caught acclaim for his performances in recent years, he has built an excellent independent career in the director’s chair. The multi-tooled creative fuses grindhouse sensibilities with high-level commentary. His latest horror feature, Blackout does the same. Following a semi-traditional horror plotline, Blackout features a deep examination at prejudice and hate in local communities. Fessenden’s werewolf spectacle delivers on most grounds, even if some of the performances cannot rise to his ambition as a storyteller.
Late one night, a couple dies in the woods. Their bodies appear mutilated. The only witness – a Latino named Miguel (Rigo Garay) – tells the police about a monster. The established members of the town, including local developer Hammond (Marshall Bell), do not believe Luis and accuse him of the killings. Charley (Alex Hurt), the son of a local legend, comes to Luis’ defense. However, Charley has more skin in the game than anyone realizes.
Small-town dynamics fall away to larger comments on political discourse. Blaming the other, the creation of disinformation, and corruption come crashing into the township. The importance of allyship and belief comes out, allowing those with more privilege to navigate the complicated world more effectively. This ultimately pays dividends for Fessenden. In fact, he proves concepts of toxic masculinity, racism, and socioeconomic strife present in 1941’s The Wolf Man still echo in our current climate.
Fessenden crafts a beautiful story over the runtime, and his night photography gives us a perfect throwback feel. With DP Collin Brazie, they are able to craft a unique 1970s vibe, despite setting the film in the present. The opening of Blackout pulls heavy influence from grindhouse pictures, complete with a humorous sex sequence ending in a kill. As Blackout evolves, Brazie captures the beauty of the gore effects while also allowing the camera to function as a subjective view of the events. At its best, we feel horror history flowing through the blocking.
For the third time in his career, Fessenden delivers a unique take on a classic monster. While The Habit brought back vampires and Depraved included elements of Frankenstein creatures, this feels like his most accessible. For much of Blackout, the werewolf effects are hidden or obscured. Yet when they take center stage, they shine. The angles from the camera elevate these practical effects, allowing the transformation and hunting sequences to truly scare the audience. The creature of Blackout feels every bit as real as any we’ve seen in years. Additionally, the performance from Hurt as a wolf-man creates electricity that’s rare to duplicate.
However, Hurt and others do not quite bring enough realism to their performances to sell Fessenden’s material. Some horror takes itself too seriously, and as a result, self-importance hurts the story. However, Blackout features an integral story about race and undue anger in a post-Covid world. The material and metaphor work, but not all the actors can sell the dialogue as essential. Hurt struggles at times, as do a few other members of the cast. It puts a cap on how good Blackout can be, even with the ideas in place for it to contend for top-tier status.
Ultimately, a few missed emotional opportunities stop Blackout from being one of the best horror films of the year. Yet few will be filled with more ideas than Blackout. The power in the visuals and pure storytelling is undeniable. In the context of Fessenden’s career and his talent as a filmmaker, Blackout should still draw attention for years to come. It’s got too many good ideas and gore effects that are too good to ignore.