SXSW 2022 Review: Emergency

Year: 2022

Runtime: 105 minutes

Directors:  Carey Williams

Writers: K.D. Davila

Cast: Donald Elise Watkins, RJ Cyler, Sebastian Chacon, Sabrina Carpenter, Maddie Nichols

By Tom Moore

Impactful conversations on racial discrimination and college party antics come together in director Carey Williams’ latest film, “Emergency”(2022), to make for a fun and funny coming of age story with a gut-punching finale.

As Williams introduces “Emergency’s” main duo, Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) and Sean (RJ Cyler), he also establishes the film’s two central tones and identities. While Kunle and Sean come off like your typical college party movie characters with their opposite upbringings and mentalities as Kunle prepares for higher education and Sean prepares for the legendary party tour the two are going on that night, there are some unique aspects to their views that tie into them growing up black in modern America. While Kunle’s immigrant parents aspire him to pursue greater academic and job opportunities, Sean doesn’t have that same sense of support and has adopted a grimmer view of the world due to his family facing a lot of incarcerations and conflicts with the police.

These differing perspectives come out in an intriguing way through a strong opening scene in a classroom that really grabs your attention. Its subject matter of Kunle and Sean’s white professor openly discussing and saying the n-word immediately gets your wheels turning with thought and it’s very engaging to listen and see Kunle and Sean’s reactions even after they leave the classroom. Williams’ direction in the scene is flawless and the writing from K.D. Davila shows some early strengths in getting you hooked on the material and really thinking about what’s happening on screen. It puts you in the right state of mind for what ensues as their planned night of partying takes an unexpected turn.

As Kunle and Sean are about to head out for their big party tour, they come across a passed-out girl (Maddie Nichols) in the middle of their living room, and they’re divided about what to do about it. While Kunle and their other roommate Carlos (Sebastian Chacon) suggest calling the police, Sean is instantly against it and it’s tough to blame him given the situation. The scenario of cops walking in on three non-white men over the body of a passed out white girl sounds like a pure death sentence, so it’s pretty understandable that Sean is heavily against getting the police involved. Thus, the trio is forced to find a way to get this girl to a safe place leading to a lot of unexpected hilarity and harrowing realizations.

The antics that these three go through throughout the night are incredibly funny and feel right at home with the best parts of college party movies. The three of them bickering about how the hell out of this mess showcases the great chemistry these three have and the fun parts of their distinctive personalities. Not to mention, the new problems they run into, like learning new information about the girl that makes the situation look even worse, can add these funny obstacles that make you laugh at how bad things are getting. There are even some funny moments that come when the film cuts to the girl’s sister (Sabrina Carpenter) and her friends looking for her and their failures can be really funny to watch. “Emergency” is the kind of college party movie rarely seen anymore and its what gives the potential to be so appealing to a wider audience.

Throughout all these hilarious antics though, Williams and Davila never forget “Emergency’s” more socially driven side dealing with Kunle and Sean’s vastly different upbringings and the opening’s strong, thought-provoking ideas continue their momentum well. Watkins and Kunle continue their debate about whether to call the police, even trying to draw in a timid Carlos on their respective side, and it eventually opens up a greater conversation between the two about their distinctive upbringings. Because of how much Williams and Davila get you so invested into these characters because of how greatly they’re written and how charming and genuine the performances are, you really soak in what they’re saying about each other.

When Kunle talks about how Sean has let his family’s history and the tragic history of black men being targeted by the police drag him down to the point where he sees no future for himself, you can feel what he’s getting at. Yet, when Sean also talks about how Kunle doesn’t understand the trauma and pain of being black because of how he’s grown up in a more affluent setting, you equally understand where he’s coming from. “Emergency” offers a wide perspective of what being black in America means through its central duo, and Watkins and Cyler, deliver deeply emotional performances that really make you think about the different thoughts and perspective on display throughout “Emergency”.

It all leads to the film’s heart-poundingly emotional finale that excellently feels like the culmination of all the feelings and thoughts throughout the night. While there could’ve been more done for Sean’s personal story and perspective as well as Carlos’ developing arc in seeing himself as a third wheel in the group, Kunle’s arc is truly tragic in the harrowing finale that leaves you on edge with a big lump in your throat. “Emergency” mostly carries this charming comedic tone that still remains present in some aspects of the wrap-up, but the finale is Sean’s nightmares coming to life for Kunle. It’s absolutely devastating to see Kunle’s perspective be shattered and while it’s nice that both Kunle and Sean are able to reconcile and rise from the ashes more unified, the tragic impact is never lost and sticks with you through the film’s chilling final moment.

“Emergency” adds a poignantly relevant and meaningful entry to the college party movie genre by creating a hilarious and harrowing effort from Williams and Davila that features can’t miss performances and thought-provoking writing that are instantly engaging and create deeper thought within viewers.

4.5 stars

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