By John Hanlon
There’s a scene in the new Amazon Prime feature Emergency that shows a man and woman emerging from their home after the woman spotted two black students standing across the street. The woman films as the duo confronts the students and accuses them of dealing drugs. Before the scene ends, the camera fades back, showing the sign on the couple’s front lawn: Black Live Matter.
This is just one of the moments that will likely strike viewers when they watch this insightful and story about three students faced with an unwinnable situation.
RJ Cyler and Donald Elise Watkins star as Sean and Kunle, two college students who share a house with their fanny pack-loving roommate Carlos (Sebastian Chacon). With the end of their college journey in sight, Sean has planned out an epic night with Kunle. They plan to hit up all of the big parties around campus in one evening, setting them up to be the first black students to accomplish the feat. When they stop home, however, they discover an unidentified white girl (Maddie Nichols) passed out in their living room.
The two — who quickly inform Carlos of their discovery — then have to figure out what to do next.
The feature’s first scenes smartly show the differences between the two main characters. Sean smokes pot-smoking and doesn’t care about school while Kunle is studious and responsible. When the two encounter the unidentified white girl though, they both realize how their race ties them together. The police might make rash decisions based on their skin color (the film shows that it’s not just police who can be blinded by racial prejudices).
Written by KD Davila and directed by Carey Williams, the movie is a full-length adaptation of the pair’s short film. Like A Simple Plan, she sets the scene and then shows how it escalates quickly from there, snowballing into something far more treacherous.
The entire plot depends on the audience understanding why the main characters don’t call the police upon the discovery of the unidentified woman (if they called the police at first, the film would end quickly). Considering the reality at play though (the story sounds implausible) and the characters’ understandable trepidation at calling the police, it’s easy to appreciate their hesitation. Throughout the film, the characters face racism and to the film’s credit, it’s not always from the predictable characters. In fact, their whole journey shows some of the implicit and explicit biases they face.
The drama works both as an exploration of the characters facing one crazy night in their lives but also provides a revealing look at how their skin color affects many of their interactions, even with each other. One scene, in particular, shows Kunle’s discomfort with Sean’s family, which is very different from the family he grew up with.
There are some moments when it feels like the feature is caught between some of its comedic elements and its serious messages but those tonal shifts are more then compensated in this film that dares audiences to think about their own biases.