Review by Sean Boelman
For his sophomore feature, Carey Williams (R#J) directs a feature-length adaptation of his short Emergency, which played at the Sundance Film Festival back in 2018. The film definitely shows some promise, but ultimately, it is likely to be the type of movie that gets its praise more for what it is trying to be than what it actually is.
The film follows a group of college students who are faced with a dilemma when they are faced with an emergency and must decide whether or not to call the police. In terms of short-to-feature adaptations, this one does a good job of taking its simple, short-friendly premise and expanding it in a way that sustains the tension.
Without a doubt, the thing about this movie that most lends itself to recommendation is the subject matter. It deals with issues of race and frat culture, and while it isn’t particularly subtle about these themes, the way in which writer KD Davila handles them is going to be palatable to the younger audience that is ultimately who need to have this discussion the most.
However, there are other, substantial issues with the script. The film bills itself as a comedic thriller that uses humor to approach these difficult topics. However, in attempting to “soften the blow”, the movie also loses a lot of its punch. It would have been much more impactful had it been a race-against-the-clock thriller.
In fact, the portions of the film which lean more into the comedic side aren’t particularly memorable. They are the same type of jokes we have heard time and time again in other teen movies like this. However, those sections which are more serious and higher-stakes are genuinely intense and riveting. It’s the whiplash of going back and forth between the two that is frustrating.
Davila does a solid job of building a nice rapport between the main characters that will allow the audience to buy into their friendship, even if their individual stories are a bit bland. However, there is a secondary group of characters with whom we are also supposed to sympathize, and they are underdeveloped to the point where we aren’t rooting for them even though we should.
The highlight of the cast is Donald Watkins, whose leading performance is charismatic and does a great job of grounding the movie emotionally. RJ Cyler attempts to steal the show, but Watkins refuses to let him do so, making sure that the focus is squarely on him. And Sabrina Carpenter is just… there? She ultimately doesn’t do a whole lot in this film.
Emergency will definitely have its fair share of fans, especially among the younger crowd, but it’s such a mixed bag that it doesn’t entirely work. It feels more like a debut than a sophomore feature, which is troubling when Williams’s debut was met with a muted response.
Emergency screened at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, which runs virtually from January 20-30.
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