[Fantasia 2023] BLACKOUT -- Larry Fessenden Brings Us Another Existential Take on a Classic Monster Story
Review by Sean Boelman
Filmmaker and actor Larry Fessenden has become something of a cult icon in the genre cinephile community, making his latest film, Blackout, one of the most anticipated premieres at this year’s Fantasia Festival. The unorthodox werewolf tale delivers exactly what fans would expect and hope for: a few really gnarly horror moments mixed in with a surprisingly poignant story.
Blackout follows a painter who is convinced that he is a werewolf attacking the citizens of an otherwise sleepy American town. Fessenden has an interesting way of taking these familiar tropes of the genre and using them to tell a story that, while still unsettling, is particularly focused on the emotional angle of things.
These movies in which Fessenden takes classic monster stories and gives them an existential spin — the other two being Habit and Depraved — are consistently ambitious and fascinating. Blackout is an interesting exercise because the werewolf genre is already known for having a somewhat existential angle, but Fessenden successfully takes it to a whole further level.
Unfortunately, the film does suffer somewhat when it comes to its characterization. Although the protagonist is compelling, no one else in the movie feels fully developed. Ultimately, this begins to affect the protagonist, as despite having a compelling individual arc, his relationships with everyone else feel wholly underwritten.
The lead performance in the film by Alex Hurt doesn’t have the nuance it needs to be fully effective, but it does work on a throwback level. Considering that the performances in the movies that inspired this one are somewhat stolid in nature, it makes sense that Hurt’s performance comes across as somewhat aloof. In the supporting cast, there are some solid cameos from friends of Fessenden, such as Barbara Crampton and Jeremy Holm.
As is par for the course for Fessenden’s films, there’s a heavily independent quality on display here. The soundtrack is full of folksy songs, and the cinematography feels very rough-and-tumble. However, the effects really shine. The monster makeup looks great, and while there aren’t a ton of scenes of violence, those that are present are pretty effectively gnarly.
Considering that the more horrific moments in the movie are somewhat spread out, the pacing feels like much more of a slow burn than horror cinephiles might be used to. However, the atmosphere that Fessenden is able to create is so transfixing that it more closely resembles classical gothic horror or the type of moody horror-tinged drama of the ‘90s.
For those who are a fan of Fessenden’s past work, Blackout is sure to be another satisfying entry in his independent monster movie canon — but it seems unlikely to win the filmmaker any new converts. Personally speaking, I’d love to see Fessenden offer more unique takes on classic monster stories.
Blackout screened at the 2023 Fantasia Film Festival, which runs from July 20 to August 9.