Comedy Drama

SXSW Review: ‘Emergency’

March 12, 2022Ben MK

When you think of films set against the backdrop of a college campus, you might think of underdog dramas about sports rivalries or raucous comedies about frat house parties. But although director Carey Williams' Emergency starts off with its two main characters plotting to become the first Black men on their campus to attend parties at all seven of their college fraternities in one night, the story quickly shifts its focus to something more topical, in this tale about the hypothetical consequences of racial stigmatization, and the impact they can have on very real life-or-death decisions.

Party-loving Sean (RJ Cyler) and studious Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) are best friends who are two months away from graduating. But before they do, Sean is adamant that they become the first Black students to complete the "Legendary Tour" — a non-stop night of drugs, drinking and vaping that will earn them a plaque on the wall of the Black Students Union. However, when they make a pre-party detour at the house Kunle shares with his roommate Carlos (Sebastian Chacon), they make a surprising discovery that will irrevocably alter the direction of their evening, finding a 17-year-old girl named Emma (Maddie Nichols) unconscious on the living room floor. Anxious about what the police might do to them if they call 911, the trio decide to drive Emma back to the party they assume she might have wandered away from. But when Emma's older sister Maddy (Sabrina Carpenter) begins searching for her, it puts them all on a collision course with the law — one that might realize their worst fears.

A college buddy comedy imbued with equal doses of Get Out and The Hangover, the result endeavors to balance serious social commentary with dark humor, as Sean, Kunle and Carlos find themselves thrown into increasingly bizarre and uncomfortable situations, all the while trying to carefully navigate the dangerous racial stereotypes that they and others from their communities face on a daily basis. Ultimately, though, it's the experiences that viewers bring with them going into Emergency that will determine how much they get out of it.

Emergency screens under the Festival Favorites section at the 2022 South by Southwest Film Festival. Its runtime is 1 hr. 45 min.

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