Werewolf fans rejoice! Fantasia 2023 hosted the premiere of the new film from horror legend Larry Fessenden and it is not to be missed. Blackout brings all of the blood, fangs and carnage that you want out of a werewolf film, while also incorporating the thoughtful contemplation and real-world connection that Fessenden is known for. Much like his early film Habit, Blackout fixes its eye on a mainstay of horror cinema and finds a way to remix the genre staples while at the same time adding his own fingerprints to the narrative. 

As the film opens, Charley (Alex Hurt) is checking out of the small motel that has been his temporary home for several weeks. He is in the middle of a separation from his wife Sharon (Addison Timlin) and everything else in his life seems to be at a point of change. We follow along as Charley meets up with several friends and seems to be putting things to bed. He is wrapping up loose ends, setting a few things into motion, and trying to make a clean break “before he goes.” Where, is a mystery. Charley has the air of a man putting his affairs in order, but is cryptic about his motivations and master plan.

As Charley goes about his day, we begin to meet the fellow residents of the small, upstate New York town they all call home. Talbot Falls (clever wink there) is very much every small American town, complete with its darker side. A number of vicious murders have terrorized the community in recent months. Local businessman and self-proclaimed leader of the town, Hammond (played masterfully by Marshall Bell), has singled out Latino resident Miguel (Rigo Garay) as the culprit (partially due to his proximity to one of the attacks, but also due to blatant racism). Eventually, Charley’s errands take him to meet his good friend Earl (Motell Gyn Foster) and the whole story comes out. Charley is a werewolf and is responsible for the attacks across town. He has no memory of what he has done or how he came to be this monster, but he knows that he cannot continue to roam free. He has a plan to put everything to rest, once and for all, and hopefully leave the town in a better place in the process.

Talbot Falls really is the quintessential American town. People there have known one another for years, they enjoy the tranquility of their small community, and that community is being corrupted right under their noses. Hammond is a developer who was recently granted permits to build a resort. The project has divided the residents of Talbot Falls, but ultimately, money won and Hammond got his way. And now he is fighting to preserve everything that he has. He is the kind of man who is only out for his own gain and will run over everyone else who stands in his way, all while declaring that everything that he is doing is being done for the good of the community.

He mentions more than once that he wants the town to “get back on track.” He is frustrated with recent changes and events  - particularly the arrival of the Latinx population into the little hamlet that he lords over. He wants to see his town returned to the perfect place that exists only in his memory. Because again, like every American small town, that perfect version never existed. But people still remember it fondly and will fight to see it “returned,” no matter who gets hurt in the process.

Fessenden uses this cultural friction as a solid framework over which to build his monster movie. It gives the story a relatable and somewhat sad backdrop for the events that will transpire, and integrates them perfectly into the things that Charley gets up to when the moon is full. Like most of Fessenden’s films, Blackout utilizes a minimalistic approach to its supernatural elements, grounding them in reality and really giving us something that looks and feels unique. 

The effects are fantastic. The look of the werewolf takes a lot from Universal’s monster cycle and is more of a wolfman than an actual wolf. It’s incredible and something that isn’t often embraced in modern genre films. And the way Fessenden reveals the creature to the audience is extremely effective. He takes his time, giving us some fangs, some claws, and plenty of POV shots before finally revealing the full scope of the creature. Wolfman Charley is something to behold, and Hurt does an amazing job in bringing him to life in a way that separates him from the fully human Charley that we get to know over the first chunk of the film. He brings in a lot of differences in posture and movement that make it clear that when this side of Charley takes over, it is fully in control. The Charley that we have gotten to know is gone for the time being.

There is a sadness at the heart of this film that I love, and that really spoke to me. Some of the best werewolf movies have a sense of tragedy at their core. Because in these films, Lycanthropy is something that is inflicted upon innocents. Characters like Charley have no control and are at the mercy of the beast that now resides within them. They didn’t ask for this and they don’t want it. They hurt other people and ultimately, must make a personal sacrifice in order to set things right. That melancholy is something that is present throughout here, as Charley makes his preparations and tries to close this chapter on the best terms possible.

Blackout is a fantastic film. The story is solid, the characters are well-realized and believable and the werewolf moments are positively brutal. Corruption in a small town and the story of a man trying to set things right before he is taken by the full moon. If that doesn't get you excited, I don’t know what will.

Movie Score: 5/5