Sundance 2022: Emergency

Kunle and Sean are best friends and college roommates. Tonight they plan to celebrate and cement their friendship by being the first Black men on campus to complete the Lengendary Tour, making the rounds (and presumably surviving) all 7 frat parties in one epic night.

Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins), the son of doctors, referred to variously as “Black excellence” and “the Barack Obama of bacteria,” is off to Princeton shortly, to pursue post-grad studies on his way to a PhD. Sean (RJ Cyler) is his laid-back counter-point, and while his plans for the future may be less ambitious, his plan of attack for tonight’s festivities is nothing short of genius. A quick stop home for a change of clothes and some pre-gaming is all they need before the fun begins. The quick stop home, however, has other plans for them.

An unknown/unidentified drunk white girl is passed out in their living room after apparently breaking in and barfing up her stomach contents. A third roommate, Carlos (Sebastian Chacon), plays video games in his room, oblivious. Kunle is swift to assess this as a problem for 911, but Sean’s more typical experience as a Black man in America means he’s extremely reluctant to summon cops to his home. That’s how a night of partying turns into an unforgettable opportunity for director Carey Williams and writer KD Davila to explore racism, masculinity, friendship, and justice.

Last year Carey Williams was at Sundance with his film R#J, a new take on Romeo & Juliet which captivated me and motivated me to make sure Emergency was on my must-see list for 2022.

Williams toes the line between comedy and drama, and then he dances all over it, allowing his talented young cast to bring out both the urgency and the absurdity of the situation. Indeed, this satire is only possible because life really is this fucked up. With every sickening twist and turn, we never doubt their plausibility, which is perhaps the film’s most damning tactic. The subtle layering of challenges and expectations shoves reality in your face and forces you to live with their truth, and its consequences. A Black man’s impulse to do the right thing is necessarily tempered by his survival instinct. It’s a frustrating, maddening experience that deserves to be shared.

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