For casual Sundance attendees who remember the successful virtual escapades of last year’s module and adjacent film selection, many may still remember the cringe-inducing glory of R#J. Premiering in the technologically robust NEXT selection, the screen-life cinematic adaptation — based on one of the bard’s most intricate and beloved plays — simultaneously compelled and cringed its international Park City viewership. Regardless of the film’s pandering to Gen-Z references (including the enthusiastic inclusion of the popular film-logging app Letterboxd), the Sundance programming team ultimately introduced the world to a new Grade-A talent. After a year since last year’s successful Sundance edition, Carey Williams expeditiously returned for a second serving of genre-infused goodness with his fraternity dramedy Emergency. Transitioning from the NEXT selection to the honourable title of a competition distinction, Williams’ latest adapts his beloved short film into enthralling feature form.
The setup is simple. Three friends, one night, and a plethora of unfortunate events which brilliantly connects commentary on police brutality, questionable academia and racial microaggressions into an accomplished drama. In between boorish lectures and obligatory ‘deez nuts’ jokes, Williams’ introduction to the lives and personalities of Emergency’s two charismatic leads effectively executes the narrative shape of the film. Where many sub-standard dramas — and even the inclusion of other recent American films featured at this year’s Sundance Film Festival — falter in their depiction of post-secondary routine; Emergency scribes the on-screen personalities with great realism and investing social dialogue.
Issue is, the beats feel all too familiar; even predictable in the face of unfortunate chain-reactions. Perhaps an additional rewrite to condense the narrative opening and elongated epilogue could have improved Emergency’s familiar material; in order to distance itself from the countless other American independent ‘one crazy night’ knockoffs to be released in previous festival runs. Nevertheless, the inevitable beating core of the film is the dialogue writing; which provides the emotionally-gripping cathartic drama within Williams’ empathetic film. Even with the inclusion of the obligatory separation of the two protagonists trope, the onscreen motives are always justified; given the political and social context behind the intense scenarios at the crux of the film.
But most importantly, Williams’ final shot perfectly necessitates the film’s existence and present-day parallels. A steady dolly into the eyes of the film’s lead adequately sums the built-up trauma and post-traumatic stress founded and reworked through the film’s engaging thesis. Emergency is conventional enough as is, yet the genuine passion and riveting conversations present in Williams’ final cinematic draft ultimately satisfies its occasional familiar beats and compassionate emotional stakes. One can only hope for Williams to return once again to Sundance, for another unexpected round of delectable drama.