Starring: RJ Cyler, Donald Elise Watkins, Sebastian Ciccone, Maddie Nichols, Sabrina Carpenter, Madison Thompson, and Diego Abraham.
Directed By: Carey Williams
Where I Watched It: Amazon
English Audio Description Available?: Yes
Description Provided By: Media Access Group
Narrated By: Inger Tudor
The Plot: Three college guys must deal with coming home to find their house has been broken into, and an unconscious white girl is on their floor. Due to their own fears of dealing with the police, the struggle with how to handle the situation, in a film that defies genre, by blending comedy and suspense, and offering an honest look at what could very much be a reality for some watching the film. Meanwhile, the girl’s sister and her friend are trying to track her down using their phones. Where will this film end? Perhaps not where you expect.
What Works: So, I often dive headfirst into films I know almost nothing about. I saw that Emergency was a new feature film released by Amazon this week, it had RJ Cyler, and the very basic plot description made it sound like it might be a comedy in the vein of Project X or 21 And Over. In some respects, that is true. The film does present the optimism of these characters being able to have that college experience. And, it does obviously intend to make you laugh several times throughout the film.
All I have to offer is my perspective, which is not from that of either one of the communities represented in the primary lead roles. I am neither black nor Latino, I’m white. And I’m fairly certain that even though this film may be the kind of thing that ends up preaching to the choir, it’s probably a film a whole bunch of people who look like me could stand to watch a lot more of.
But if we’re being honest, while our director Carey Williams might have had his own intentions, or optimism about the reach of his film, it ultimately landed on streaming, and most people don’t really know it exists. It’s the kind of thing that will only grow from word of mouth, but it will keep being passed around to people who are fully aware of what this film is saying.
It’s the same problem that political comedian pundits like Samantha Bee, John Oliver, Seth Meyers, Trevor Noah, and so on all run into with their shows. They’re speaking to an audience predisposed to understanding the conditions being discussed. This isn’t reaching across the aisle. You didn’t sneak a film in that will reach to people who need to be changed, likely the largest audience for this film will end up being predominantly minority, and an audience that’s very aware of the message of this film.
I only mention this part, because it’s obvious that Carey Williams takes this very personally, as this is a feature length adaptation of his own student film. When granted the opportunity to do a broad feature for wide consumption, his immediate thought was to adapt Emergency for mass appeal. But does it actually have mass appeal?
The sad truth is, no. It doesn’t. For reasons we see on twitter everyday when people use phrases like anti-woke, woke culture, and critical race theory to prop up a series of race baiting topical discussions that push away themes like Black Lives Matter in favor of replacement theory. So, Emergency will be watched and enjoyed by the very people who relate, possibly in very triggering ways, to this story and what these men have to say. While their choices may not always be the ones you would make, they really all seem to come from a deeply personal place. And that’s something that Williams set up brilliantly, using the first 15-20 minutes to just establish our male leads, so we can get to know them.
The idea is that they want you to know that they’re just like any regular college kids. They don’t party any harder than anyone else in college, they’re not stereotypical jocks, or hazing freshmen. They just want to make it to their degree. That’s juxtaposed against two college girls who do want to party, and one allows her underage high school sister to tag along, to obviously unfortunate results.
In the end, Emergency is one of the best films I’ve experienced this year, regardless of my skin color, or whatever the directors intentions may have been. I thought the acting was on point, the balance of so many different ideas and genres was done so well, and it all pushed toward a fever pitch ending.
What Didn’t Work: One thing, and it’s just a small thing, and it might even be the point. I thought the presence of Rafael as a character was unnecessary, and he just took up space. he didn’t contribute anything, or offer anything that having empty space in his place wouldn’t have achieved. But I also acknowledge that the whole point might have been to actually say that.
The Blind Perspective: The audio description here by Inger is done really well. We get to know everything important, from the racial makeup of the characters, to hairstyles, to what they are wearing. Even when the girl is passed out on the floor, we’re still told about her outfit. Also, an attention to detail with regard to the facial expressions really helps in some scenes. And, where some peoples hands and arms are. Very good job.
Final Thoughts: This film is either for you or it’s not. I think the IMDB score it has is unfair, and is being pulled down because IMDB voters always downvote streaming titles not released theatrically, as well as racists. The Metacritic at 75 should let you know that it’s a better film than a 6.1 on IMDB. And, like I said, it’s one of the best, and one of only 3 films I’m giving an A to this year.
Final Grade: A