‘Blackout’ Fantasia Review – Larry Fessenden’s Contemporary Werewolf Tale Captures Small Town Life

Horror

In 2019, indie horror filmmaker Larry Fessenden reimagined Frankenstein with a contemporary lens in Depraved. His follow-up, Blackout, takes his exploration of classic movie monsters further with a unique take on the Wolf Man. Alcoholism and lycanthropy afflict an artist in Blackout, the title’s dual meaning apparent, but Fessenden takes it a step further by exploring the volatile nature of a community and the catastrophic yet absurdly funny toll a monster’s destruction wreaks on a small town.

Talbot Falls artist Charley (Alex Hurt) is at a significant crossroads. His binge drinking has made a mess of his life and relationships, including former love Sharon (Addison Timlin) and her ruthlessly power-crazed dad Hammond (Marshall Bell). His drinking has left him prone to blackouts, complicating matters when he begins to suspect he may be the werewolf savagely ripping people apart during the Full Moon. Never mind that he has deep-seated father issues to work through well before he’s introduced. This leaves Charley retreating from society while desperate for closure, especially as the body count rises.

Werewolf hand in Blackout

Multi-hyphenate writer/director/producer/editor Fessenden captures Talbot Falls’ predicament with an almost documentary style that captures the town’s interiority. Charley may be the central Wolf Man, but his story is told as much through his perspective as his neighbors’. Fessenden unspools an unhurried hangout movie as the camera drifts through the town, capturing the varying direct and indirect conflicts of Charley’s nightly hunts. Charley is the throughline that connects the characters that come and go through his story, reflecting the current social climate with authentic poignancy and, often, a dry absurdist sense of humor.

In that way, Blackout plays almost like a series of vignettes as Charley’s morning walks of shame or errands see him pass by or encounter friends, former lovers, town police, a pair of town racists, or eclectic passersby that impart vital narrative details through casual conversation. That unconventional approach to storytelling gives thematic and emotional weight to the Wolf Man’s destruction, but it also means that Blackout leans more into drama than horror.

That’s not to say Blackout is devoid of horror, though; Fessenden opens with a retro horror scene featuring a copulating couple getting gory just desserts under the full moon. The filmmaker also demonstrates how night shots should look. Fessenden may approach Talbot Falls with documentary-like authenticity but he also injects stunning cinematic moments that underscore the filmmaker’s tenured experience. Charley joyously running through a field under the full moon doesn’t just harken back to The Wolf Man; it lends an infectious cinematic quality.

Alex Hurt in Blackout

It’s authenticity that sums up Blackout well. Hurt ensures Charley isn’t a one-note despairing Wolf Man. Charley comes with hefty emotional baggage from the outset, and photos of young Hurt with real-life father William Hurt used in the film suggest perhaps Hurt is familiar with his character on a personal level. Whether that’s the case or not, Hurt does a tremendous job ensuring Charley remains emotionally honest, complicated, and profoundly conflicted about his lycanthropy, let alone how to address it.

Blackout draws obvious inspiration from a classic monster but couldn’t be further removed in execution. Fessenden captures the mundanity of small-town life while demonstrating just how precarious society can be as one rampaging Wolf Man plunges its residents into chaos. Those expecting a more straightforward, conventional werewolf movie won’t find it here. Charley is the catalyst in a broad picture tale, removing an easy throughline for audiences to grab hold of that’s further compounded by a laid-back pace. Instead, Fessenden offers a veritable, funny, sometimes sluggish yet poignant slice of life with a violent and bloody horror twist.

Blackout made its world premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival.

Release details TBD.

3.5 out of 5

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

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