Film Review – Emergency (2022)

It all starts out so well for best friends Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) and Sean (R J Cyler). It’s the end of term and they’re about to embark on their “legendary tour”, a succession of frat parties. It’s gonna be quite a night – and it is. But not in the way they expect ….

Carey WilliamsEmergency opened this year’s Sundance Film Festival, winning the screenwriting award and it’s his second shot at this comedy/social satire about what turns out to be a night to remember in all the wrong ways. His short of the same name was shown at Sundance in 2018, winning the Special Jury Prize, and for this expanded version the essential story remains the same. Returning to their apartment, which they share with the geeky Carlos (Sebastian Chacon), the two friends discover a stranger – a white girl – semi-conscious on the floor. Kunle wants to call the cops, but Sean is adamant the situation could be misinterpreted, so they load her into his van, with the idea of taking her somewhere safe. Meanwhile, the girl’s sister has started searching for her, using the tracker on her phone – and the boys have no idea she’s on their tail ……

Like his first feature – R#J, a modern re-telling of Romeo And Juliet – Williams’ sophomore offering taps into Shakespeare, but the emphasis is on comedy. Essentially, it’s a comedy of errors – assumptions, misunderstandings, in fact anything that can possibly go wrong does, and does so spectacularly – and one with plenty of laughter, from throwaway lines to really crazy situations. It’s all designed to sharpen the satire, although first half of the film is very much for laughs, with just the occasional mention of the issues that come into the spotlight by the time it reaches the half way mark. That’s when the tone darkens, becomes more sinister, and makes you hold your breath.

Williams takes the huge leap from a 12 minute short to a 105 minute feature very much in his stride. The premise and the three students at the centre of the story don’t change: what he’s added is another trio, the girl’s sister and a couple of friends, all the worse for wear after a party. That they jump to the same conclusions about the situation with the semi-conscious Emma (Maddie Nichols) that the boys expect from the cops is just of the storyline’s delicious ironies. Ultimately, their main concern is that the police will make all the wrong assumptions simply because of the colour of their skin. They’ve done nothing wrong: they’ve tried to put things right but done it clumsily and in a way that’s been made worse because of their underlying fears.

So it’s a shame that the ending strikes an awkward note. From cleverly using humour to add impact to the film’s messages, the tone changes yet again and everything becomes strangely solemn. It’s an ending which feels bolted on, something of an afterthought and the only real evidence of the film’s short origins. That aside, it’s a high-speed, fun ride with serious points to make. As one of the characters observes, “some day this will all be a crazy story.” Well, that day is now!

★★★1/2


Comedy | Cert: 15 | UK cinemas from 20 May 2022, Prime Video from 27 May 2022 | Republic Film Distribution, Amazon Studios | Dir. Carey Williams | Donald Elise Watkins, R J Cyler, Sebastian Chacon, Maddie Nichols, Sabrina Carpenter.