Director: Sebastián Silva
Year of release: 2018
Films about racism are often painted in broad strokes (yes, this is still important to highlight), but rare is the more nuanced representations of racial discord, and Sebastián Silva’s Tyrel expertly zeroes in on the alienation people of color have to navigate on a daily basis. Rather than the cartoonish stereotypes of redneck bigotry we often see in the movies, the young men depicted here mostly fashion themselves as progressives; adding further complication to an already fraught scenario.
The scenario in question is an all-male weekend in the Catskills where Johnny (Christopher Abbott), brings his friend, Tyler (Jason Mitchell) to the hangout session where the group has been meeting for years and building up a sense of macho camaraderie. The group, which includes birthday boy, Pete (Caleb Landry Jones), and late arrival Alan (Michael Cera), whose presence pivots the weekend into a spiral of passive-aggressiveness, are almost too aware of how Tyler sticks out, since he’s the only African American present. Their constant calling attention to the racial conflict by either going too far or hiding behind woke platitudes, creates a sense of unease which escalates as the men get progressively inebriated over the weekend.
Tyrel is surprising because it doesn’t go the places where we expect. Silva toys with audience expectations by using roving hand-held camerawork which becomes looser and more shambolic as the film proceeds. Meanwhile, the presence of Jones creates an obvious mirror to Jordan Peele’s Get Out, but the connection is mostly superficial. Whereas that film was tackling the rotten history of American racism head on as a blunt object, Silva is more interested in possibilities of hope despite our differences. However, none of this would be conveyed as successfully without Mitchell, whose empathetic performance draws on his natural charisma to create a fully believable arc. Tyrel might be the odd man out, but Mitchell makes his discomfort truly universal.