“Emergency” begins innocently enough: with graduation a few weeks away, two college bros and their roommate are planning one last wild night of general debauchery by hitting seven frat parties in one evening. They’ve mapped out the route and are ready to pregame as soon as their first class of the day is over. It sounds like a fun buddy comedy, but writer KD Davila and director Carey Williams‘ film takes a disturbing turn. This film is challenging on multiple levels, even if it does try to tackle too many serious issues at once.
Best friends Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) and Sean (RJ Cyler) are an odd couple with differing world views. Kunle is preppy and studious, recently accepted to grad school at Princeton and looking towards a bright future as a doctor of Biology. Sean just wants to party and get high. Their first class of the day, an uncomfortable seminar on hate speech in a room where they are the only two black students, sets the tone for what’s to come. Perhaps the pair should’ve taken the very bad start to their day as a sign, because things quickly get much, much worse.
When the two friends get back to their shared apartment, they find the front door open, their Latino roommate Carlos (Sebastian Chacon) in his room playing computer games, and an unconscious young woman on their living room floor. Not knowing who she is or how she got there, Kunle rushes to her aid and starts to dial 9-1-1. Sean stops him, weighing the pros and cons of three minority men calling the police about a white girl passed out in their house.
The story is a serious and upsetting look at what it means to be a black man in today’s world, and the risks of contacting the cops feel legitimate. These three roommates of color feel they cannot call the cops or paramedics because of a deep, honest mistrust of authority, and it shows that sometimes it’s not so easy to do immediately do what most would consider to be the right thing when you’re brown in America. It’s a night of extremely bad decisions from everyone, and those choices lead to dire consequences.
Comparisons to 2018’s “Blindspotting” seem inevitable, but the humor here is more off-putting. I understanding attempting to add a bit of levity to the situation, but there are some extremely heavy themes about racial dynamics, perceptions, and the societal truth that many continue to make assumptions based on age and skin color. It’s an important topic to continue expressing through art and other means, but this “satire” has so many dramatic elements that it feels real.
The incidents that these young men face could happen without question, like when they stop their car in a suburban neighborhood and the white homeowners stare out the window and begin recording a video of the “suspicious” encounter, accusing the young men of dealing drugs. The camera pans away and you see the couple has a Black Lives Matter sign in their front yard. It’s funny, until you take a moment to really stop and think about it. This is the blend of humor and drama that didn’t quite work for me.
The story at the heart of “Emergency” is one that inspires discussion, and it’s a sobering (even with the often misplaced comedic elements) look at how the lives of a few young men can spiral out of control simply because of the color of their skin. It’s heartbreaking that these characters saw no way out of their situation, although they did nothing wrong. It’s stories like these that need to be told so that attitudes can hopefully begin to change.
By: Louisa Moore