“Emergency” is directed by Carey Williams from a screenplay by K.D. Dávila, who previously collaborated on a same-named short film. The short concentrated on the incident that propels the feature: at a Northeastern college, gifted biology student Kunie (Donald Elise Watkins), his troublemaker buddy Sean (RJ Cyler), both Black, and their earnest goofball roommate Carlos (Sebastian Chacon), a Latino, discover a young white female student (Maddie Nichols’ Emma) passed out on the floor of the small house that they share near campus.
The trio have no idea how their unwanted guest got in their house, but agree that if they call 911, they’ll be blamed for whatever happened, and possibly shot by police for no reason at all (a valid fear in America), so they’re better off driving her to a nearby emergency room, dropping her off, and fleeing. So that’s what they do, piling into Sean’s car. Of course the journey doesn’t go as they’d planned. It never does in films like this. And the whole time, Sean is cranky that the odyssey is interrupting their planned epic journey through seven parties at Greek organizations, and Kunie is flipped out because he forgot to close the refrigerator at the lab that contains samples of cultures he’s studying.
The trip takes them into a variety of situations that illuminate the state of racially and politically charged campus life circa 2022, as well as off-campus life. At one point they stop at the home of Sean’s older brother, who just got paroled from prison, and the straitlaced Kunie is so anxious at being out-of-his-element that he can barely speak to them, and has to be ordered to sit down. The group are tailed throughout the night by Emma’s sister Maddie (Sabrina Carpenter) and two friends, who are very slowly tracking them (on foot) from the cell phone that Emma has lodged in the bosom of her party dress. We dread what will happen when sis catches up. The politics of a young, blond white woman desperately trying to catch up with a car containing her sister and three men of color is never far from the center of the film’s mind, and it makes even seemingly uneventful encounters fraught with lethal potential.