R, 105 mins.
2022, R, 105 mins.
Donald Watkins as Kunle / RJ Cyler as Sean / Sebastian Chacon as Carlos / Sabrina Carpenter as Maddy / Maddie Nichols as Emma / Madison Thompson as Alice / Diego Abraham as Rafael /
Directed by Carey Williams / Written by K.D. Davila
EMERGENCY is the kind of film that starts out one way and makes you think it's adhering to one specific comedic genre, but as it develops and careens towards its final act it becomes something wholly darker, compelling, and timely.
Directed with a
surefire hand by Carey Williams and sensitively written K.D. Davila,
EMERGENCY is based on their own 2018 Sundance Film Festival Jury Prize
winning short film, and based on its success the pair decided to adapt it
to a feature length film.
There are times when the film feels like it's struggling to
validate a longer length, and there are perhaps too many characters vying
for attention when they're not on a collision course with one another.
Yet, EMERGENCY stands tall by the way it intriguingly subverts our very
expectations: Initially, this film seems like it's going to be yet another
on a long list of stoner college comedies, but then segues into macabre
Imagine ROAD TRIP morphed with WEEKEND AT BERNIES and further cross
pollinated with AFTER HOURS and you'll kind of get the idea. That
sounds like a weird hodgepodge...but hear me out.
The film opens
It's nearing the end of the school year when we meet up with
college students Sean (R.J. Cyler) and Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins), and
as most post-secondary students do with ample free time on the horizon
they try to map out what kind of partying they can get into with the
Both seem like polar opposites: Kunle is a well off, intelligent,
and ambitious student that wishes to get into Harvard, whereas Sean is the
motormouthed troublemaker of the two and is focusing all his attention and
energy on plotting out their "Legendary Tour" (simply put, a
massive pub crawl through all of the campus' most happening parties).
Despite seeming like they come from different walks of life, Sean
and Kunle are lifelong brommates that would take a bullet for one another
at the drop of a hat, but the latter seems more concerned about his
educational future and making a name for himself.
Their night gets
off to an awfully rocky start when they return home to collect some things
and are shocked when they discover a passed out and potentially drunk/drug
overdosed woman on the floor (Maddie Nichols).
Their oblivious and game obsessed roommate in Carlos (Sebastian
Chacon) is at a loss for words as to what happened to this girl, leaving
the traumatized students struggling to plot their next appropriate move.
One of them thinks that calling the cops is in order, but Sean
matter-of-factly retorts that the optics of this situation - an
intoxicated and unconscious white girl in their dwelling with three men of
color hovering over her - would appear instantly suspicious to any
potential racially profiling police officers, so they unilaterally nix
Being too deathly afraid to reach out to law enforcement for fear
of horrible repercussions, the lads decide to take the girl out of the
apartment and into their car so they can do some sleuthing as to who she
is and how she ended up at their pad.
Concurrent to all of this is the ordeal of the girl's sister in
Maddy (Sabrina Carpenter), who joins her BFF in Alice (Madison Thompson)
and fellow friend Rafael (Diego Abraham) to go on their own nocturnal
mission to locate Maddy's lost sibling by attempting to track her location
via her smart phone.
Predictable wackiness - and some unpredictable detours - befall all
of these aforementioned characters.
the opening stages of EMERGENCY certainly appears to be made up of the
spare parts of many other wacky college comedies, but it generates many
well earned and large laughs as it progresses.
One early scene is cringe inducingly amusing, which shows Sean and
Kunle attending a college lecture by an bizarrely tone deaf professor
that's trying to teach a course on hate crime and then smugly flashes the
N-word on her projector and asks the class why it's such an awful word.
Sean hysterically and incredulously deadpan whispers to Kunle in
class, "Is that even allowed?!
Ask her why is she teaching a class about some shit she doesn't
know shit about," to which he responds, "Well, it's on the
Moments of social unease like this are equal parts painful and
funny, not to mention some of the other wild hijacks that this pair of
black students find themselves in, like, for instance, being chased by
racist white fratboys or an unnervingly paranoid white couple filming them
during a random stop.
Great comedies are frequently born out of the unfortunate expense
of their troubled characters, and EMERGENCY is no exception.
But, Williams and
Davila have another creative agenda with this college comedy, especially
for the way their film slowly, but surely taps into the day-to-day horrors
of being a minority in the modern world.
The whole highly inconvenient dilemma that Sean, Kunle and Carlos
find themselves in becomes increasingly complicated when they simply can't
call the police for help.
If they were white, this film would essentially be over at the
halfway point, but because these characters are black and Latino
respectively, they realize that a simple call to the police will not
simply end well at all.
Their nearly impossible mission is to get this coked out white
woman to an emergency room in the most discrete manner possible and
without alerting attention to anyone.
The college comedy genre trappings clearly permeate this picture,
but EMERGENCY adeptly becomes increasingly laced with real world thriller
elements, not to mention some timely social/political commentary about the
trials and tribulations of these men - and countless others like them - in
Sean, Kunle, and Carlos are good people that get into the worst
kind of trouble that would be less of a burdensome ordeal if their skin
color were different.
Of course, the
ugly elephant in the room for this hapless trio is their perceived fear of
the ruthless unfairness of law enforcement for people of their ilk.
The manner that EMERGENCY interlinks race relations with police
brutality gives the film a horrifying undercurrent that chiefly elevates
it above the contrivances of other college caper comedies.
There's an inherent sadness to the film as well, especially when
viewers realize that these characters' intense fear of the cops stymies
them when it comes to making rational decisions to get them out of their
And it's not just from their perspective either, which is made
paramount when the white girl's sister starts to pick up the pieces of her
To Maddy looking from the outside in, she sees her passed out
sister in a car with three suspicious looking people of color.
And when all of these characters unavoidably come together - and
with the police involved too - EMERGENCY manages to go down both familiar paths
while covering sobering thematic terrain.
Then there's a dexterous manner that Williams and Davila further
inject a class consciousness into their narrative.
The film is a power play of differing world views between Sean and
is the cynical pragmatist that - based on a hard life of bad experiences
with cops - is afraid of how their night will end.
Kunle is well meaning and book smart, but lacks the street smarts
to comprehend what being pulled over by the cops will mean and, rather
naively, thinks cooler heads will prevail. The
final sections of EMERGENCY leads to - without spoiling anything - one of
them having a massive shift in prerogative.