Trial by Fire
The film plods at points, trudging along, and there are a few misguided narrative "devices" tacked on, but still, "Trial by Fire" bristles with anger.
Editor's note: Brandon Towns is one of three recipients of the Sundance Institute's Roger Ebert Fellowship for Film Criticism for 2018.
Sundance’s Shorts program spotlights various projects by unique indie filmmakers. One-shot film “The Climb” showcases the unlimited creative possibilities a single location has to offer, and with its witty dialogue and relatable characters, is a joy to watch. Another short, the “Home Shopper” brings an unusual concept to the silver screen with excellent writing and a surprise twist. However, it's Carey Williams’ "Emergency," that stands out from the Sundance short films crowd.
A beautiful gem, “Emergency” shines a light on a common subject within the black and Latino community—relations with the police. The film follows three college friends: Kunle, Sean and Carlos, as they struggle to decide if calling the police is the best decision in a difficult situation. “Emergency” explores the fears many young minorities face when interacting with police officers. It’s the fear of losing one’s life in the wake of gun violence and police brutality. It’s the fear of being in the wrong place, at the wrong time and the consequences that follow. It’s the thoughts of Trayvon Martin and Pedro Villanueva flooding your mind as you wonder if you’ll become another hashtag.
Director Carey Williams flawlessly executes this prevailing fear through the perfect mix of drama and comedy. Williams examines the conflicting ideologies when dealing with police as seen between Kunle and Sean. Through Sean, we are thrown into the mind of black youth conditioned by terror as he refused to call the police, afraid of getting shot. While on the other hand, Kunle believes calling the cops is the right thing to do. This growing tension is heightened by the cinematography of Ebert Fellow, Jomo Fray, who won a Special Jury Award for his work on the film.
The camera is still, locking you in with these characters. It’s claustrophobic. We’re worried for Kunle, Sean, and Carlos because we don’t know what’ll happen to them. Like the end of “Get Out,” we’re forced to stay with these young men as their fate is left in the hands of a man behind the blue and red flashing lights. “Emergency” ultimately begs the question: does interaction with the police mean the end for black and Latino youth?
"Emergency" leaves you on the edge of your seat, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Other articles from the Sundance 2018 Ebert Fellows:
Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade” Captures Imperfect Adolescence by Gary Wilkerson Jr.
A Filmmaker’s Point of View by Jomo Fray
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
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