With Love for the Lycanthrope: Larry Fessenden's 'Blackout' [Fantasia Fest]


Something rotten roams the forests of Talbot Falls. A young couple have been brutally murdered under a full moon – leaving evidence that points towards a wild animal attack. We see this initial act of violence at the beginning of the film, the black-and-white scene becoming violently splattered with artery red accents. With the body count climbing and no suspect behind bars, the townspeople give in to their paranoia and begin turning on one another.

Director Larry Fessenden adds to his catalog of monster movie projects with Blackout, an homage to the classic werewolf movie. The murderer turns out to be Charley (Alex Hurt), an artist who shapeshifts into a werewolf under a full moon, compelling him to commit gruesome acts. Charley knows he needs to stay away from those he cares for, but he sets out to complete a bucket list of items before he prepares to exit for good.

Fessenden uses this werewolf story to examine societal issues like xenophobia, immigration politics, corruption, greed, and isolationism. Our hero Charley may be the shedder of blood, but he sees the true enemy as Jack Hammond (Marshall Bell), a local land developer who only cares about profit. Hammond buries issues like groundwater contamination in order to keep his Hilltop Manor project from being delayed. He's also content to blame the murders on Miguel (Rigo Garay), an innocent Latino construction worker who came forward as a witness. Charley knows Hammond's vendetta against Miguel comes from prejudice and sets out to exonerate Miguel and reveal Hammond as unprincipled.

Filmed in upstate New York, the town of Hammond Falls is a perfect setting for a monster movie, with its shadowy forests and natural beauty. There's a sense that something wild could survive and thrive here without detection. Fessenden makes use of the special effects of the past, with an emphasis on the monster design, using makeup and prosthetics, rather than CGI. While the results are hit and miss, this puts more of the emphasis on Alex Hurt's acting than fancy green screen technologies.

Rigo Garay as MIGUEL in BLACKOUT
Alex Hurt as Charley hits the right balance in his performance of charming and acerbic. He contains enough charm to convince people to talk to him but also has that dash of sarcasm that keeps people at arm's length. Rigo Garay as Miguel almost steals the show, however. Miguel believes in the curse of Hombre Lobo and his natural goodness and charisma inspire his community to rally to his defense. I would totally watch a sequel with Miguel.

The movie has its flaws. Not all of the special effects land. And some of the acting leaves something to be desired, most notably Stuart (Joe Swanberg), the new beau of Charley's ex, Sharon (Addison Timlin). Additionally, the most interesting female character in the movie, a deputy named Alice (Ella Rae Peck) deserves a better death than she received. I refuse to believe she would have died in such a dumb fashion, while the idiotic sheriff Luis (Joseph Castillo-Midyett) gets to survive.

While the movie may not fully please horror fans who would like more and bloodier kills, Fessenden has put a lot of love into this werewolf movie. Charley's curse has put a great weight on his shoulders – one he carries with dignity and care for his neighbors. As we follow him on his errands, a portrait forms of an isolated life who must reject love to keep others safe. The neo-jazzy score brings out Charley's wistfulness for what could have been. Not everyone will appreciate the open-ended conclusion, but the theme of the horror not being fully laid leaves an unsettling and realistic mark.

Release info: Screening during Fantasia Fest 2023. Go here for all of my Fantasia 2023 coverage. 

Final score: 3 out of 5