The Movie Waffler New to Prime Video - EMERGENCY | The Movie Waffler

New to Prime Video - EMERGENCY

emergency review
Three college students panic when they find a passed out girl in their dorm.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Carey Williams

Starring: RJ Cyler, Donald Elise Watkins, Sebastian Chacon, Sabrina Carpenter, Maddie Nichols, Madison Thompson, Diego Abraham

emergency poster

Director Carey Williams' Emergency boasts one of the most daring setups you'll likely have encountered in quite a while. Three college buddies find an unconscious underage girl on the living room floor of their dorm house. Rather than immediately contacting the appropriate authorities, they worry that they might be held responsible for whatever might have happened to the girl before she arrived at their home. What a bunch of narcissists, right? But wait, of the three students in question, two are African-American and the third is Mexican, while the girl is white. How might this scenario look to any authority figures?

emergency review

Not wanting to find out the answer to such a question, streetwise Sean (RJ Cyler) convinces his preppy buddy Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) and nerdy gamer Carlos (Sebastian Chacon) that this is a problem they need to deal with themselves. They decide the best course of action is to drive the girl, Emma (Maddie Nichols), to the nearest emergency ward.

Of course, this proves easier said than done, as these three young men of colour stick out like a sore thumb in their white college town. Making it to the ER requires keeping ahead of Emma's distraught sister (Sabrina Carpenter), evading the police and generally not drawing the attention of any white folks who might view these three guys dragging an unconscious white girl around with suspicion.

emergency review

Williams opens his movie in familiar teen comedy territory, all upbeat hip-hop tunes on the soundtrack. Cyler and Watkins have great chemistry as the cynical working class Sean and the naïve middle class Kunle. Once the elephant in the room, or rather the body on the floor, appears, the film begins to struggle with its tone. African-Americans' fear of the police, and of white people in general, doesn't sound like a topic that lends itself easily to comedy, so it's no surprise that despite the best attempts of their talented young cast, Williams and screenwriter KD Dávila struggle to mine many laughs from this fraught scenario. The satire simply isn't sharp enough, perhaps because this is such a blunt issue. There's a nice moment in which our protagonists are threatened by an angry white couple, only for the camera to pan across and reveal said couple have a "Black Lives Matter" sign on their lawn, a reminder that liberals love to tell us they love people of colour until they find some in their own neighbourhood.

But such digs are few and far between in a movie that plays it far too safe in its portrayal of white people. Our three leads keep telling us the dangers white people pose, but the film never dares to actually show this, constantly making excuses for its white characters as though it's terrified of offending a white audience. There was a time in the blaxploitation era when movies could unambiguously portray white people as villains in black-centred movies, but American cinema seems to have regressed in this area in the decades since the '70s. I didn't believe half of the actions of the white people in this movie, particularly the police, whom the film really lets off the hook. Ironically, the closest the film gives us to an outright white villain is Emma's sister, the very person who has a right to view our protagonists with suspicion. After all, from her point of view her sister has been abducted by three young men.

emergency review

At the point where Emergency realises it doesn't have the satirical chops to continue in a comic vein, it should have doubled down on the thriller stakes. There was a great opportunity here to make something of a response to all those '80s and '90s thrillers that saw middle class white folks try to escape from urban ghettos and survive the night. Sean, Kunle and Carlos face a racial and class reversal of this scenario, but the movie never makes the audience experience the tension that three such young men would feel in this sort of scenario. It's riffing on Weekend at Bernie's when it should be Judgment Night in suburbia.

Emergency is on Prime Video UK now.

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