A Night of Epic Partying Takes an Unexpected Turn

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College roommates (RJ Cyler, Donald Elise Watkins, & Sebastian Chacon) find an unconscious girl (Maddie Nichols) in Emergency.

Two African-American college students and their Latino roommate find an unconscious white girl on the floor of their house. Emergency turns the raucous laughter of a fun party film into a serious commentary on social issues. The film’s tone changes dramatically as the fear of false accusations leads to poor decisions. The well-written characters represent different viewpoints on race and popular culture. Emergency also works as a satire on “blackness” and the serious repercussions of binge-drinking. A second act lull picks up with a thoughtful climax.

Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) and Sean (RJ Cyler) are very different best friends looking to party before spring break. Kunle, the conservative son of African doctors, studies diligently. His academic efforts result in acceptance to Princeton for grad school. Sean smokes weed and drinks. He ignores his thesis for an epic partying goal. Sean has secured a pair of tickets for the “Legendary Tour”, seven themed fraternity parties across campus. He doesn’t get a ticket for Carlos (Sebastian Chacon), their gentle gamer housemate. Sean mocks Carlos for carrying a fanny pack filled with granola bars.

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Kunle and Sean come home before the tour to find the front door open. They’re stunned to find a scantily clad white girl (Maddie Nichols) passed out on the living room floor. Carlos was completely oblivious gaming in his room. Kunle turns her over as she vomits. He wants to immediately call 911. Sean categorically objects. They are three dark-skinned men with a possibly drugged white girl in their house. The authorities would never believe she just appeared.

Sean deduces from her skimpy outfit that she came from the Anything But Clothes party. He convinces his highly skeptical roommates to drive her back. Meanwhile, at the ABC party, a frantic Maddie (Sabrina Carpenter) gets Alice (Madison Thompson) and Rafael (Diego Abraham), the random guy hitting on her. She hasn’t seen her sister in hours.

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Hard Biting Humor

Emergency opens with great humor. Sean’s ribbing of Kunle’s nerdy demeanor had me laughing out loud. The two are polar opposites. The humor bites harder as the pair become uncomfortable targets as the only black students in a race relations class. These scenes effectively satirize the college experience; where a well-intentioned liberal professor makes life worse for her minority students. The film softens you up for the harder societal commentary to come.

The efforts to find a safe resolution becomes more complicated. Kunle and Carlos refuse to leave a helpless girl. Anything can happen to her. Sean agrees but knows the authorities will not view them as saviors. Friction builds to a showdown between besties. Kunle has enough of Sean’s degrading racial slights. He makes no apologies for growing up wealthy with caring parents. Sean doesn’t have the right to define “blackness.” Sean warns that law enforcement will not see Kunle as an upstanding student with an impeccable record. A black man carrying an incapacitated white girl won’t get the benefit of the doubt.

Emergency accurately depicts the dangers of reckless partying. Maddie has a reason to be terrified. She left her inexperienced sister alone in a frat house. The girl could have been drugged, assaulted, or worse. She easily becomes a prime target of predators with bad intentions. The sisters pay a price for their actions. A severe third act shuts down the humor for stark realism. The characters suffer truthful consequences.

Emergency is Carey Williams’ feature adaptation of his award-winning 2017 short film. A slow second act meanders as the narrative builds to a powerful finale. The film succeeds in addressing uncomfortable issues with a deft touch. RJ Cyler’s star continues to rise. He’s also delivered stand out performances in The Harder They Fall and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.

Emergency is a production of Temple Hill Entertainment. It will have a limited theatrical release on May 20th. Followed by a Prime Video streaming debut on May 27th from Amazon Studios.


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