Emergency Review: Chaos, Comedy, And Racial Tension Make For A Captivating Caper [Sundance 2022]

If you're a college kid who comes home to find a young girl passed out in the middle of your living room, what would you do? The easiest and most logical answer is to call 911. But that decision isn't quite so easy in "Emergency," a new film from director Carey Williams and writer K.D. Da'Vila that's playing virtually as part of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. 

Even in the wake of Black Lives Matter, calling the police isn't exactly the most desirable solution for minorities in an emergency situation when it potentially involves the unfortunately and shamefully likely outcome of getting shot, or at the very least, being body slammed to the ground with a gun pointed at your face. So when "Emergency" puts three friends in the middle of an immediately tense and endlessly escalating situation as they try to figure out the most responsible way of dealing with an unconscious girl in their living room without risking their lives, the tension is palpable. But that tension is cut by clever dialogue that simultaneously brings reprieve through humor and offers astute, piercing commentary on race that never feels contrived. The result is a chaotic, surprisingly funny, and intense night gone wrong that masterfully balances comedy, drama, and suspense. 

Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins of "The Underground Railroad") and his best friend Sean (RJ Cyler of "The Harder They Fall") are two college seniors on the verge of graduating in a few weeks, and they're about to embark on a historical night of partying. In an effort to become one of the "firsts" among the students honored on the walls of the Black student union (First Black Student Government President, First Black Sketch Comedy Group, etc.), Sean is hellbent on making sure he and Kunle become the first two Black men to complete the "legendary tour" of parties across campus.

As these two begin to plan their epic night, we get a vibe for their lifestyle dynamic after attending a class about blasphemy and taboos. In class, their white, female professor begins a lesson on words that are considered to be incendiary, and Kunle and Sean are noticeably unsettled by her intense focus on the n-word, which she says uncensored in an almost self-satisfying fashion as the world is projected in giant letters on the wall. This sparks the first of many conversations afterwards that provide the very different perspectives and personalities that Sean and Kunle have when it comes to being young Black men. Giving us Judd Apatow or Kevin Smith levels of snappy dialogue, but with a more thoughtful, pointed approach, the script is biting and strong. For example, the line, "I'm higher than a giraffe's ass" is hilarious, but "I ain't becomin' a f**kin' hashtag," is both funny and meaningful all at once.

Sean is the rapscallion of the duo, already getting the night started by day-drinking and smoking weed in the middle of the afternoon. Meanwhile, Kunle is the more reserved and academically dedicated of the two, showing much more concern for the mold experiment that's part of his thesis rather than ensuring this drunken adventure goes off without a hitch. In their post-class conversation, Kunle also tries to reason as to why it might actually be appropriate for their white professor to say the n-word. Meanwhile, Sean sees this as an opportunity for a white person to feel a sense of satisfaction of saying such a racially charged word in front of Black people without worrying about the consequences. He also can't help but call Kunle an Oreo, a Black person who is Black on the outside and white on the inside. It's one of several provocative and thoughtful conversations these two have throughout the film, but not all of them are so calm and collected as they begin to endure a hellish night that they won't soon forget.

'Three Brown Guys Hanging Over a White Girl'

Kunle and Sean have a massive wrench thrown in their party plans when they discover what they assume to be a white, female college student in a hot pink corset and skirt passed out on the floor of their living room. Meanwhile, their roommate Carlos (Sebastian Chacon of "Penny Dreadful: City of Angels"), an eccentric, fanny-pack-wearing kind of awkward kid, has no idea how this girl ended up in their house, because he's been plugged into his computer game in his bedroom with noise-cancelling headphones on. Alive but unconscious enough to offer nothing but a puddle of vomit on the floor, she is a huge problem.

Immediately, Kunle has the sense to call 911, but Sean vehemently talks him out of it, emphasizing that they are absolutely in the wrong place at the wrong time, and calling the police to this scene only puts them in the line of fire of trigger happy police. All they're going to see is "three brown guys hanging over a white girl," and those are not good optics. Eventually, they decide the smartest and safest solution is taking the girl (nicknamed "Goldilocks" for sneaking into their house) to the hospital, taking them on a cross-campus, cross-town mission full of missteps, misunderstandings, and havoc. 

Meanwhile, at a frat party across campus, Maddy (Sabrina Carpenter of "Girl Meets World") is looking for her younger sister Emma, who has gone missing. Using the "find my friends" feature on her cell phone, she ends up in pursuit of Kunle, Sean, and Carlos, unaware that they're merely trying to get her help. Escalating the situation is the revelation that Emma (Maddie Nichols) is just a 17-year-old senior in high school, putting this trio of friends in even more precarious waters if they were to be discovered in this inexplicable predicament. 

This campus caper falls somewhere between "Superbad" and "Very Bad Things," with two best friends reconciling their differences in the middle of a legally questionable situation that inadvertently brings their friendship to a boiling point. Though you might find yourself frustrated by some of the decisions and missteps made by the main characters, the movie never steps out of line in believability and stays true to the characters. It never feels like the story is forcing along the next plot point, but rather the characters and their dynamic bring it upon themselves. 

The Urgency of Emergency

K.D. Da'Vila's script and Carey Williams' direction carefully balances sharply funny dialogue and multiple mishaps brought about by a stressful situation with a sense of dramatic urgency that never feels undercut by the comedy. Even when you're laughing at a witty insult or fast-talking banter, you still have your finger on the fast pulse of this situation. It's an impressive high-wire act that they likely mastered when they collaborated on the 2018 Sundance-selected short film on which this feature is based, and it's only enhanced by an outstanding assembly of performances from the entire cast. 

There's also plenty of racial and social commentary laden throughout, especially when it comes to Sean and Kunle being two different kinds of Black men, but it never casts judgment on either of them, opting to let the characters work through their personal problems and shortcomings instead of trying to overtly teach them and the audience a lesson. More subtle details are also present, adding to the never-ending presence of racial tension, such as an invasive, white neighborhood watch couple with a Black Lives Matter sign lingering in their front yard. The commentary isn't always racially motivated either, with one moment where a 911 call made by Maddy turns into confrontational skepticism about the emergency simply because she's a college girl who might be slightly inebriated. This movie has a lot to say without being pompous or indignant about it. 

But perhaps where "Emergency" deserves the most recognition is in delivering a story that fully encapsulates the minority experience in the face of danger that will never be truly understood by the white majority. While the scenario that these three kids find themselves in is harrowing on its own, it's escalated by the weight of being a minority and knowing that helping someone in such a dire circumstance means potentially risking your own life. Without spoiling the ending, I can tell you that "Emergency" lets the audience soak in the trauma of the aftermath of this wild night. The resolution of this evening's events isn't really the end of this story, and it's not the end of tension for our characters either.

"Emergency" will get a theatrical release on May 20, 2022, followed by a streaming release on Amazon Prime Video on May 27, 2022.

/Film Rating: 8 out of 10