Directed by Carey Williams.
Starring Donald Elise Watkins, RJ Cyler, Sebastian Chacon, Sabrina Carpenter, Maddie Nichols, Madison Thompson, Diego Abraham, and Melanie Jeffcoat, Gillian Rabin, Summer Madison, and Patrick Lamont Jr.
Ready for a night of legendary partying, three college students must weigh the pros and cons of calling the police when faced with an unexpected situation.
Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) is a college med student radiating kindness so extensively that he is naïve, trying to find that same good in others, even if they are prejudiced. Such neutral behavior within racial tensions has jokingly earned him the nickname Oreo by his slacker friend Sean (a hysterical RJ Cyler that grounds his hilarious lines and questionable choices in harsh reality that illuminates his decision-making, generating empathy). They are both Black, although one of them has lived a safer and more accepted life away from the thick of racism. As such, when Kunle and Sean butt heads in Emergency over what to do upon finding a white woman (Maddie Nichols) passed out on their floor after drunkenly stumbling into their home, there’s a push and pull that while Sean has some genuinely terrible solutions (such as dropping her unconscious body off outside the nearby frat party that she most likely came from), it’s only because he knows that, on account of them being Black, suspicions will be high if they call 911.
Far more infuriating is that no matter how Kunle tries to accomplish the right thing in getting this young girl help (his plan is to drop her off at a nearby hospital), people will accuse and react, thinking later. Yes, there are intentionally comedic moments where the friends, joined by their third wheel Carlos (a very funny Sebastian Chacon), do look shady, but there’s also an underlying pressing theme that sometimes people need to shut the hell up and listen before irrationally flying off the handle (in this case, specifically white women). Emergency is full of moments where characters simply hearing one another out would prevent the escalation of these events, but not in a grating movie-like way. It doesn’t matter if it’s the intoxicated girl’s older sister in pursuit (Sabrina Carpenter going full Karen) or some white people faking their progressiveness with BLM signs on the lawn which are just as quick to do some proverbial pearl-clutching as soon as they are forced to interact with real Black people, their problematic behavior feels authentic.
Even with a middle section that slightly dips in laughs and tension as convenient setbacks pile on top of one another, there is consistent high-level energy and charming camaraderie between the central trio. Aside from this fateful night that should have been about a legendary bar crawl, their days of living together are likely coming to an end with Kunle set to attend Princeton yet struggling to find out how to tell Sean. It all lends a Superbad-style kinship between the friends, although one thing holding Emergency back from achieving true greatness is similarly fleshing out the women. There’s an opportunity to heighten the drama and social commentary by characterizing them on a more leveled playing field. Then again, for as tense as Emergency is, it does boil down to an ultimately safe exercise and yet another third act trying to replicate the heart-stopping panic in Get Out.
Emergency is a feature-length version of director Carey Williams’ short film of the same name (here using a script from KD Davila), and while it could have been slightly tighter and more visual personality, it’s to be appreciated that the writing is concerned with the psychological effects of this stressful night. An arc of trauma throughout Emergency leaves Kunle momentarily wondering if it’s even worth dealing with racial discrimination and inhumane disrespect to help others.
In nearly any other dynamic, predominantly white, Kunle would have immediately been a hero. He is still a hero here, but because he is also Black, he had to endure psychological scars along the way. RJ Cyler has several laugh-out-loud zingers, but Donald Elise Watkins channels the situational humor and injustice into a commanding, revelatory performance infused with nobility and devastation.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com