Blackout Balances Its Werewolf Side with Its College Philosophy Side

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Blackout Balances Its Werewolf Side with Its College Philosophy Side

Being a werewolf sounds fun, until it happens to you: The late nights, the insatiable hunger, the undying rage, the ballooning of your clothing budget as every outfit you own inexorably falls apart with each moonlit transformation. The cuisine isn’t great, either, unless you’re the over-adventurous type to whom eating animals alive sounds like a test of intestinal and gustatory mettle. It’s enough to make an afflicted person lose their zest for life, which might in turn be enough to make shuffling oneself off one’s own mortal coil an appealing alternative. That’s the space Larry Fessenden occupies in his new movie, Blackout, an existential and depressive character study of Charley (Alex Hurt).

Charley is a man once bitten and, as the story begins, twice a killer: In a slowly creeping POV shot, Charley stalks and savages a young couple screwing in an open field, claws slashing flesh to the tune of their helpless screams. Blackout cuts to the morning after, as Charley, an artist, wakes up in his hotel room, where he has apparently enjoyed an extended stay while plotting liberation from his supernatural burden. Putting down a dog just takes a tranquilizer and pentobarbital. Putting down a werewolf demands much more effort. Firearm stores don’t typically line their shelves with silver bullets.

Charley is determined and, while he’s short on time—the longer he waits, the higher the body count—he makes up for the deficit with hangdog patience. Fessenden’s ambling direction is simpatico with Charley’s easygoing composure; Blackout is structured around a series of farewells as our doomed hero wanders the setting, Talbot Falls (named, of course, for Chaney Jr.’s furry fiend in The Wolf Man), puts his affairs in order, and readies for his death. Charley tries reconciling with his ex-fiancé Sharon (Addison Timlin). He nearly lives out a PornHub scene with his lawyer Kate (Barbara Crampton). He catches a ride from the town’s pastor (John Speredakos), and another from Miguel (Rigo Garay), a construction worker accused of Charley’s crimes. He butts heads with shady developer Hammond (Marshall Bell), Miguel’s ex-boss as well as his accuser, who fudged the findings of land use studies to get an “okay” on a project promising jobs at the cost of environmental destruction.

Charley can no more live with the knowledge of Hammond’s corruption than he can with the knowledge that he’s a wild beast wrapped up in a man-suit. But the “beast” conundrum remains front of mind for Blackout even at its talkiest. Fessenden holds were-Charley in reserve so that when he does succumb to his condition, the impact of his transformation is better felt. For one, the creature work here is sterling, hewing closer to an even blend of man and beast than is the norm; fully transformed, Charley looks like, well, Charley, but as a bipedal canine. The choice effectively reinforces his humanity while expressing primal instinct at the same time. Hurt plays that dichotomy with two parts melancholy to one part physicality: He cuts a wild, grotesque figure in his monstrous state, and he capitalizes on the freedom to emote that his prosthetics afford him—he strikes an empathetic chord as he’s horking up guttural snarls. 

Blackout’s emphasis on Charley’s identity rallies our compassion, though of course one of the main reasons for watching a werewolf film is carnage. Fessenden’s team loves a good old-fashioned throat rip, with severed appendages thrown in every now and again for balance. But what makes Fessenden’s movies stand out from their kin in whichever niche he chooses to explore is his prioritization of character—every character, from the primary actors to the supporting cast. To Fessenden, the bit parts are as important as the leads. They’re the mortar that holds a story together: Macho drunkard Bob (Kevin Corrigan), for instance, or officers Alice (Ella Rae Peck) and Luis (Joseph Castillo-Midyett), who philosophize over “umwelt,” a semiotic phrase that refers to the way environment can shape a person or animal’s behavior. 

Heady whimsy is foundational for Fessenden’s cinema, too, and Blackout could have used more of that quality. Understandably, Charley’s plan to end his own life takes up the most legroom here. A suicidal werewolf is a welcome novelty, especially since more often than not it’s vampires who have all the fun feeling conflicted about their predatory nature. Alice and Luis gabbing about German psychological theory facilitates Blackout’s somber preoccupation with Charley’s right to die, and happens to be a hoot at the same time. For Fessenden’s purposes, that’s enough, though Blackout might have benefitted from a few more galaxy brain analyses of human nature. As is, the film balances its talkative side with its gory side nicely. Wanting more isn’t the worst feeling a film can leave you with.

Director: Larry Fessenden
Writer: Larry Fessenden
Starring: Alex Hurt, Addison Timlin, Marshall Bell, Rigo Garay, Ella Rae Peck, Joseph Castillo Midyett, Barbara Crampton, Kevin Corrigan, Motell Gyn Foster, Jeremy Holm, John Speredakos, Joe Swanberg
Release Date: April 5, 2024

Bostonian culture journalist Andy Crump covers the movies, beer, music, and being a dad for way too many outlets, perhaps even yours. He has contributed to Paste since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected work at his personal blog. He’s composed of roughly 65% craft beer.

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