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Emergency (A Movie Review)



Starring RJ Cyler, Donald Elise Watkins, Sebastian Chacon, Sabrina Carpenter, Maddie Nichols, Madison Thompson, Diego Abraham, Summer Madison, Gillian Rabin, Patrick Lamont Jr., Robert Hamilton, Mike Forbs, Adrian Lockett, Melanie Jeffcoat, James Healy Jr., John Paul Kakos, Callan Wilson, Charity Cervantes, Amar, Connor Hammond and Angela Ray.

Screenplay by KD Davila.

Directed by Carey Williams.

Distributed by Amazon Studios. 105 minutes. Rated R.

It’s always intriguing when a movie appears to be one thing and turns out to be something completely different. Is Emergency a raucous college comedy? An odd couple buddy film? A tense thriller? A trenchant social commentary on racial relations?

Yes. It is all of the above. And, tellingly, writer KD Davila and director Carey Williams always shift the focus of the narrative in ways that are unexpected and original. Every time you think you have a bead on where the story is going, they juke off into a different direction.

There is a reason that this film won the Waldo Salt screenwriting award and was such a sensation in Sundance. Emergency keeps a lot of balls in the air at once and never drops any. Pretty impressive for such new filmmakers. This is both Williams and Davila’s second feature, although both have done work in television. They had also made a short film version of “Emergency” in 2017 with an entirely different cast.

Early on, the story seems to be simple. Two mismatched but close Black friends and roommates – Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) and Sean (RJ Cyler) are planning on a massive spring break party bender. Honestly, Sean, the more streetwise of the two, is more into the whole thing. Kunle is the son of two doctors and more interested in his science experiment, which is the key to him getting transferred into Princeton.

Things change before the party crawl even starts, though. They return home to find their Latino roommate Carlos (Sebastian Chacon) had left the door unlocked, and there is a strange white girl passed out in their living room. Carlos has been playing video games in his room and not heard her come in. None of them know who she is.

Kunle wants to call 911, but Sean balks at that idea, feeling that two Black guys and a Latino found with a white girl is a recipe for disaster – even if they are completely innocent of any wrongdoing. They decide to take her to the hospital but are blindsided by odd twists of fate which keep delaying their journey.

The girl turns out to be a high school student named Emma (Maddie Nichols) who was visiting her college-aged sister Maddy (Sabrina Carpenter). When Maddy finally realizes that her sister has disappeared from a party, she and a couple of friends try to track her through her cell phone, following Sean’s van by bicycle, always just a bit behind.

In theory it is a pretty simple story, but it opens a powder keg.

Sometimes they feel a bit paranoid – but haven’t world events given them sufficient reason for such paranoia? As Joseph Heller once wrote, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” And in a world where racial profiling has become epidemic it all makes a sad sense.

Yet, for all the deep social commentary in Emergency, more than anything, it is the story of two friends. The film is funny, scary, and sad, but it is also a sweet look at two guys who may be very different but care for each other, even when they don’t necessarily totally understand each other.

With a mostly unknown cast (former Disney Channel actress and singer Sabrina Carpenter was the only one I personally recognized) and two lesser-known filmmakers, there is a lot of raw talent on display in Emergency. I look forward to seeing what is next for all of them.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2022 All rights reserved. Posted: May 18, 2022.

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