Emergency film review: Campus comedy with a brazenly topical twist

·2-min read
 (Quantrell D. Colbert/2021 Ama)
(Quantrell D. Colbert/2021 Ama)

This dark and suspenseful campus comedy was co-written by Kristen “KD” Davila, whose Oscar-nominated short film, Please Hold, is a searing delight that anyone in need of a chuckle should immediately watch (it’s only 19 minutes long). If you like Please Hold, you’ll definitely want to give Emergency a try.

It all begins with two BFs, who are possibly growing apart, making big plans for all-night revelling. Naturally, the plans go tits up. Olivia Wilde reworked the formula in Booksmart. Reggie Yates freshened it up in Pirates. Davila and director, Carey Williams, find their own angle with the help of a jaunty cast, led by Donald Elise Watkins and RJ Cyler.

Kunle (Watkins) and Sean (Cyler) are Black students, about to graduate from a predominantly white, self-styled liberal college. Everyone who’s anyone is getting drunk or high, but Kunle, infinitely more studious than Sean, wants to go to the lab before painting the town red. On their way to the lab, the friends discover a comatose blonde girl in their flat. Sean insists that calling the cops would be a mistake. The duo’s cheery flatmate, Carlos (Sebastian Chacon), grudgingly agrees. It’s decided that taking the girl to the hospital might be the safest option. In the meantime, in another part of town, the girl’s addled big sister, Maddie (Sabrina Carpenter), has noticed her sibling has gone AWOL. The more Maddie sobers up, the more guilty and angry she feels. What will she do when she sees the boys bundling her sister into a car?

Emergency has fun with definitions of “whiteness”, “blackness” and “damsels in distress”. There’s also a priceless bit where a desperate Kunle and Sean visit one of Sean’s relatives. The latter is a tough, buff guy, with lots of too-cool-for-school friends. These heavy-set guys, on realising what’s going on, matter-of-factly decide to distance themselves from the crisis. Basically, they move like bats out of hell and thanks to breezy yet precise combo of acting, choreography and editing we experience their panic as both hilarious and tragic. Before the night is over, things will get even more upsetting.

All the actors give that little bit extra. Cyler, so nuanced and entertaining in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, and The Harder They Fall, is just as watchable, here, and Carpenter and Maddie Nichols (as “the girl” aka Emma, who the boys dub Goldilocks) ensure their characters are neither bland nor dumb.

Emergency is as brazenly topical as Get Out and, if not quite as inventive as Jordan Peele’s gamechanger, should connect with families and youngsters who stumble upon it on Amazon Prime (which is where it will be streaming from May 27).

Williams and Davila: together or apart, they’re dangerously talented.

105mins, cert 15. In cinemas

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