[Fantasia 2023 Review] BLACKOUT

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, BLACKOUT being covered here wouldn’t exist.

The wolf has risen, and he is out for blood. In Larry Fessenden’s latest horror film, BLACKOUT, we get to see the classic werewolf tale shifted to the present-day. Chock full of political and social commentary, the topics Fessenden attempts to address are hard to miss. But at the core of the tale is the plight of a man battling with his internal beast and realizing that he is desperately losing amidst the backdrop of the intolerant town he lives in.

BLACKOUT opens with a classic horror film scenario. An amorous couple is being stalked by an unseen person before being interrupted with death mid-sexy times. Shooting from the assailant’s perspective gives the film a throwback feels from the get-go, a feeling that doesn’t fade as the film progresses onward.

Set in the hamlet of Talbot Falls, we are introduced to painter, Charley (Alex Hurt), who is still struggling to deal with the aftermath of his father’s recent passing as well as a breakup. It’s no wonder that he keeps going full wolf every full moon. But no one’s pointing fingers at the guy still protected by his dead father’s reputation.

As the bodies keep mounting, the town’s resident rich guy, Hammond (Marshall Bell) points fingers at an all-too-easy target, Miguel (Rigo Garay). Feeding on the town’s xenophobia, it’s not long before people join in on Miguel. Can Charley reveal the truth before his friend gets hauled away?

BLACKOUT and let the beast free

Within the story of BLACKOUT, there’s plenty Fessenden is working to parse out. There’s the repressed rage and grief that Charley is holding onto fighting to break free. The sociopolitical messaging of how a town can easily turn on the outsiders of the community, in this case, the Latinx population, is shown. All it takes is the man that finances the entire town’s economy to lead the way. Environmental politics is also tackled, with Charley hoping to bring Hammond to justice considering the paperwork he found in his dead dad’s office.

With all these competing threads, BLACKOUT gets lost in the shuffle with the werewolf components being a fun, albeit brief, window dressing. In the attempts to build out the town via expositional dialogue, the film’s pacing ends up dragging. That’s not to say we don’t get a clear picture of the town and its inhabitants. We do. But more pertinent characters like Charley’s ex, Sharon (Addison Timlin), and his friend of five minutes, Earl (Mottel Gyn Foster) get sacrificed in the process.

Tonally, the film is inconsistent. The acting fares about the same, with some taking on a more theatrical approach to delivery while others are more subtle. Even when the characters they are embodying might benefit from a different delivery approach. This conflict of styles is most noticeable in scenes between Marshall Bell and Alex Hurt and has the unintended impact of making their conflict less impactful in execution.

A puppy of a tale

As far as the werewolf components, it’s fun to see us get back to the practical transformation ala The Wolf Man. The makeup by Brian Spears gives a clear idea as to its inspiration. The fuzzy mutton chops, the long claws, and the squinty nose come together to bring Charley into wolfdom. It’s unfortunate that we don’t get too much time with wolved out Charley because it injects much-needed life into BLACKOUT.

Fessenden does right by exploring the complicated nature of humanity in Charley as well as the residents of Talbot Falls. That’s the beating heart of BLACKOUT. Unfortunately, it’s covered with cobwebs and thorns all wrapped up in a briar patch. You need to take a machete to cut away at the other components to get to the gold that lies beneath.

BLACKOUT is a busy film without the protagonist’s internal conflict reaching urgent heights. There’s something underneath all those layers of exposition and character development. That can’t be denied. But by covering all matters of topics, the film itself loses its focus and pacing, making this werewolf story more like a puppy of a tale.

BLACKOUT world premiered at Fantasia International Film Festival on Thursday, July 20, 2023.

Sarah Musnicky
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