• Jared Huizenga

What ‘Emergency’ Lacks in Intensity it Makes up for in Realism

Generally speaking, when people get ready to move on from one chapter of their life to the next, they want to make an impact. They want to be remembered. They want a legacy.


Sometimes, however, the universe has different plans for us, as it does for the central characters in director Carey Williams’ thriller/comedy/social commentary film ‘Emergency.’


On the verge of their college graduations, three (vastly different) roommates, Sean (RJ Cyler), Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins), and Carlos (Sebastian Chacon) are looking for one last wild college adventure – by hitting every party in the “legendary tour” and taking their place in history.

 

Donald Elise Watkins as Kunle (left) and RJ Cyler as Sean in ‘Emergency.’ (Photo by Quantrell Colbert © 2021 Amazon Content Services LLC)

 

While Kunle would rather stick to his biology experiments and for Sean to finish his thesis, he eventually succumbs to his buddy’s peer pressure and goes on the tour.


During a mid-tour pitstop at home, Sean and Kunle (who are Black) not only find Carolos (who is Latino) playing video games alone in his room, but also a young white woman, Emma (Maddie Nichols), passed out drunk in their living room.


Afraid of what might happen to them if they call for help, the trio sets out to get Emma to the hospital. What they don’t know is that her sister, Maddie (Sabrina Carpenter), and her friends are hot on their tails. Well, as “hot” as three intoxicated college students without a car can be.

 

Sabrina Carpenter as Maddie in ‘Emergency.’ (Photo by Quantrell Colbert © 2021 Amazon Content Services LLC)

 

The first and third acts of ‘Emergency’ play out much like we’ve seen in other movies. The first act is kind of your typical “wild friend convinces bookworm buddy to let loose for once and shenanigans ensue” college comedy, while the third act is the “friends nearly lose it all for nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time with dark skin” tale that we see (in TV, the movies, and the news).


Each is good, each is effective, although neither stands out. But the second act – the one where those two stories converge – is where the best moments of the movie happen. The lines between humor and tragedy blur a bit, you see the character’s imperfections, you come to understand their struggles, and you see the mistakes that each of them makes (some make more than others). But more importantly, if you spent any time at college parties or bars, you see the plausibility of these situations.

 

(From left) Sebastian Chacon as Carlos, RJ Cyler as Sean, and Donald Elise Watkins as Kunle in ‘Emergency.’ (Photo by Quantrell Colbert © 2021 Amazon Content Services LLC)

 

During my college days it wasn’t uncommon to stumble upon a stranger passed out in my living room; or carry a passed out girl several blocks to her friend’s car; or search an expansive apartment complex for a roommate who woke up and wandered off, thinking he wasn’t already home.


I could relate to the situation unfolding in ‘Emergency’ because I lived it in one form or another. But whereas my biggest concern in those situations was getting ticketed for underage consumption or public intoxication, Sean, Kunle, and Carlos also face the challenge of being three brown guys in the company of an unknown, underage, heavily intoxicated female stranger who happens to be white. I never dealt with that, and while we’d all like to think it’s not a reality, it is. And ‘Emergency’ tackles it head on, without feeling preachy or contrived.


It might not pack the belly laughs of most college party movies, or the edge-of-your-seat chills of other race-centric thrillers, but its tension is palpable and, despite some simply OK acting, its characters are realistic and relatable.


‘Emergency’ is playing in select theaters now and comes to Amazon Prime on May 27.


★★★½ of ★★★★★