Emergency Review: When College Parties Go Wrong


Rating: 4 out of 5.

Emergency is a whip smart social commentary with laughs and thrills to boot

Director Carey Williams adapts his own Sundance winning short film Emergency, an emotional rollercoaster of a party movie with a serious twist. It stars RJ Cyler (The Harder They Fall) as Sean, Donald Elise Watkins (The Underground Railroad) as Kunle and Sebastian Chacon (Penny Dreadful) as Carlos.

Donald Elise Watkins and RJ Cyler in Emergency
Donald Elise Watkins and RJ Cyler in Amazon Studios’ Emergency

About to graduate from college best friends Sean and Kunle plan a night of epic partying called the ‘legendary tour’ to celebrate. When the pair head home to pick up their third housemate Carlos they find an unexpected surprise – an unconscious, unknown white girl passed out on their living room floor. The three fly into a panic when Sean points out that calling for help will likely get them into trouble – the authorities will never believe that three black and brown young men ‘just found’ the incapacitated young woman. What follows is a mad ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’ style road trip as the friends try to get the mystery girl to the hospital without being pulled over by the cops.

Meanwhile Emma’s sister (for we do eventually learn the mystery girl’s name is Emma) and friends are in hot pursuit, using mobile phone tracking to try and locate the drunk teenager who had wandered off from a party and disappeared. When they see the boys loading her into a car they assume the worst, and this road movie becomes a chase.

Madison Thompson and Sabrina Carpenter in Emergency
Madison Thompson and Sabrina Carpenter in Amazon Studios’ Emergency

Emergency is a masterfully balanced mish mash of genres that starts out as something so familiar and morphs into something completely different, yet still, crushingly familiar.

“What does it mean to live in a country where a sizable segment of the population is more afraid of what might happen if they call 911 for help during an emergency than they are of the emergency itself?”

Emergency Screenwriter KD Dávila

It’s a movie that reflects on perception, misperception, and prejudice. The central three characters are immediately recognisable as the sort you see in all the standard college comedies with an easy comparison to the trio of boys in Superbad (the cocky loud one, the awkward nerdy one, the weird one they’ve been forced to adopt.) They have a wholesome friendship, and these characters draw you in with their outright and open love for each other. Yet as the story unfolds and their situation develops, we are able to see how society’s perceptions and prejudices have influenced each of them differently.

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Williams has managed to draw out what is quite a simple premise into a satisfying 1hr45 thrill ride that remains entertaining throughout as the boys encounter obstacles on their journey to get help whilst avoiding detection. The most surprising thing about Emergency is that for all the simmering real world drama shown, it manages to stay genuinely laugh out loud funny. Scenes depicting subtle and not so subtle racism are given their space to be suitably emotionally crushing, and yet a joke or a quip is never far behind. A very clever package of good writing, directing and editing makes this a delight where in less skilled hands it could have been emotional whiplash.

Donald Elise Watkins, RJ Cyler and Sebastian Chacon in Emergency
Sebastian Chacon, RJ Cyler and Donald Elise Watkins in Amazon Studios’ Emergency

Cyler and Watkins give strong, nuanced performances as two best friends who couldn’t be more different. Their final scene is a simple but powerful moment that is sure to stick in viewers minds long after the credits have rolled.

Laughs, thrills, incisive social commentary; Emergency manages to pull off a remarkable number of elements remarkably well. For a dreaded straight to streaming release it’s a real hidden gem and well worth your time.

Emergency is streaming on Amazon Prime Video from 27th May 2022

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