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Amazon Prime Video’s Emergency puts us in the shoes of two Black men who find themselves in a situation that is, shall we say, less than ideal. An I-know-it-looks-weird, it’s-all-just-a-misunderstanding type of situation that could put them – well, put them where? In prison? In the hospital? In the cemetery? Director Carey Williams and screenwriter K.D. Davila took their 2018 short film of the same name – which won accolades at Sundance and SXSW – and expanded it to a feature-length comedy-thriller that simultaneously bridges genres and delivers potent social commentary.
The Gist: Two months until graduation. Thesis time. Also, party time. Best friends and roommates Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) and Sean (RJ Cyler) have their priorities – the former for the former, the latter for the latter. Kunle wears shirts that button up and Sean vapes away in a hoodie. They go to their Blasphemy and Taboo class and the white British lady professor lectures on the n-word – except she says it outright – and ends up putting our guys right on the spot so everyone else in the class can turn and look at them. They’re Black, see. And we go UGH, but don’t worry, that’s not the first time we’ll unleash such an utterance, for any number of reasons, while watching this movie, which is quite the teeth-clenching, sphincter-puckering can of worms.
Sean has a plan for the evening: He’ll pry Kunle away from his precious bacteria cultures long enough to do the Legendary Tour, hitting seven wild parties in one night. It’s sure to get them on the wall of fame, which features a plethora of plaques commemorating the First Black Person to (fill in the blank) at the university. Kunle is sort of willing to go along with this, understanding that Things Will Change After Graduation, and it’s One Last Chance to Party Their Asses Off Before The Rest Of Their Lives Begin. They head back to their house to pry third roomie Carlos (Sebastian Chacon) from his video games so they all can get their weed and drink on when OH SHIT THERE’S A RANDOM-ASS WHITE GIRL (Maddie Nichols) PASSED OUT IN THEIR LIVING ROOM. She wakes up, pukes on the floor, then resumes her state of unconsciousness. Ugh? Yes: Ugh. Ugh for the puke and UGH ugh for the whole situation.
How’d she get there? Dunno. Why? Dunno that either. Now what? Kunle suggests they call 911, but Sean spells out the situation for him: Three college boys of color in a room with a young zonked-to-f— Caucasian female on their floor. This is what you call “bad optics.” Carlos: “She’s like Goldilocks and we’re the three bears.” YOU’RE NOT HELPING CARLOS. Kunle suggests they put her in Sean’s cruddy old minivan and drop her at the hospital, a scenario that Sean accepts because they’re less likely to end up with cops pointing guns at their faces. Step one: Look presentable, so they raid Kunle’s wardrobe and sweatervest up. Step two: Don’t get pulled over. Step three: Don’t make themselves look even more suspicious with every successive decision they make. Let’s just say they fail miraculously at step three, while everything gets more complicated when Maddie (Sabrina Carpenter) stops partying long enough to realize she hasn’t seen her little sister in a while, turns on the phone tracker and dials 911. Dear reader, I must say our boys’ plans to party just got nuked.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Emergency is like Jordan Peele’s Green Room. It’s a sometimes nerve-wracking, darkly comic film layered with raw implication and sporting traces of everything from Spike Lee to Good Time and Superbad.
Performance Worth Watching: You’ll love the core trio of Comic Relief Carlos, street-smart Sean and book-smart Kunle, all of whom get to transcend their types in funny and dramatically potent ways. Extra praise goes to Watkins, however, for delivering a significant speech during the waning moments that cements Kunle as the film’s emotional core.
Memorable Dialogue: Carlos walks into a room full of guys.
Carlos: Her name’s Emma and she just told me she’s in high school!
Chorus of Black men: “NOPE NO UH-UH NO WAY NOPE I’M OUTTA HERE”
Sex and Skin: None.
Our Take: We spend the first 10, maybe 15 minutes of Emergency getting to know Sean and Kunle, learning about them, who they are, they’re friendship dynamic, their goals and desires and priorities. Good dudes. We like them, maybe a lot. And then the UGHs start as they find themselves in a not-so-bad-that-it-can’t-get-worse predicament, partly the fault of a snowballing bad decision or two, but this is definitely an it’s-not-the-individual-it’s-the-WORLD-that’s-f—ed-up kind of story. We end up watching through our fingers, hoping everyone’s going to be OK, right? Right? Please?
by Anna Menta (@annalikestweets)
Williams and Davila aren’t just turning the screws for the sake of maintaining suspense – their motive is to underscore the paranoia and distrust the culture has wrought among men of color, while escalating the tension exponentially, delivering big laughs and bigger gasps: “How the f— did she get in a tree?” punctuates one scenario; “I think I need to start CPR” punctuates another. The filmmakers skillfully balance dark comedy with social commentary, satire with sincerity, and land on a few electrifying emotional punchlines during an extended denouement. Williams nurtures strong performances from his cast – the friendship between Kunle and Sean never ceases to be convincing – and has a wily eye for artful visual dynamics, whether he’s setting up a punchline or a bit of cathartic drama. You might be able to punch a hole or two in the logic of our two protagonists, but keep their extreme circumstances in mind – a bad night for some of us is an even worse night for others.
Will you stream or skip the comedy-thriller #EmergencyMovie on @PrimeVideo? #SIOSI
— Decider (@decider) May 29, 2022
Our Call: STREAM IT. Emergency is a tense, funny watch, keen in its execution and intent.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com.
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