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  Tyrel Out With The In Crowd
Year: 2018
Director: Sebastián Silva
Stars: Jason Mitchell, Michael Cera, Christopher Abbott, Caleb Landry Jones, Philip Ettinger, Michael Zegen, Ann Dowd, Reg E. Cathey, Roddy Bottum, Trust Arancio, Nicolas Arze, Max Born
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: The car's out of fuel, so Tyler (Jason Mitchell) and his friend Johnny (Christopher Abbott) have to push it along the snowy roads towards their destination, an out of the way country house where they are supposed to be enjoying a weekend celebrating the birthday of Pete (Caleb Landry Jones). As they huff and puff along the tarmac, an older woman (Ann Dowd) appears walking in the opposite direction and greets them; Tyler takes the lead and explains what's going on, and she is very welcoming, even giving him a hug as Johnny goofs around silently behind her. But on finally arriving at the house, Tyler, who doesn't really know these folks, notices one thing that should not matter, yet does: he is the only black guy there.

You are expecting the worst for the whole of writer and director Sebastián Silva's Tyrel (its title a gnomic anagram on the protagonist's name), especially if you had seen Jordan Peele's breakthrough horror Get Out, but this was not a horror movie, not really. This was despite it playing with the concept of the token black character seen in many movies, often chillers and slashers, where when we see there's a sole person of colour in a mostly white cast, you can bet he or she will be exiting the story sharpish, making this a rare effort to take such a character's point of view. Yet while you were on edge, fearing the worst amid this party of almost exclusively white bros, Silva was doing something different that snuck up on the viewer, effectively encouraging them not to fear for Tyler, but feel very sorry for him, and not because he was about to be executed in a welter of gore.

That just didn't happen, though to say more would be to undercut the piece's effectiveness. This filmmaker had demonstrated his affinity with the troubled outsider who feels alone in a crowd before, most notably in his best film, Magic Magic, but this proved he was not content to rake over the coals of his past glories and could provide a variation on his themes that was both valid and thought-provoking. Tyler, as a young man in his twenties, will already be aware of the little digs the prevailing culture will make at him, often unconsciously but at times, well, not so accidentally, and we can tell in this alien environment where his race shouldn't matter with these party hearty dudes, who would see themselves as liberal minded and progressive, it inexorably becomes his defining characteristic, no matter how far he goes to establish himself as one of the guys.

As I say, we are anticipating some horrendous act of racism against Tyler, something to justify his growing paranoia and discomfort, yet after a while we twig it's more that the others apart from Johnny don't really know him that well as a friend that is making them slightly wary of him, and overcompensating when trying to bring him into their fold. Indeed, the best connection he makes on the first night is with Pete's dog, and he reverts to wandering off to check his voicemails and texts to ground himself with someone familiar. The next day Michael Cera shows up and aggressively tries to bond with him, and the way that Tyler resorts to drink to dull his anxieties is a telling example of his emotions that go beyond race and into simple social malaise that could happen to anybody, regardless of their background. This is not necessarily presented in a reassuring manner, but we can see for all the white boys' posturing they don't mean to be, well, mean, and something culturally larger is going on. Set as the Trump administration is beginning, the unshakeable feeling that a lot of excuses must be made is in every scene, leaving a sense of sadness and unease.

[Click here to watch on MUBI.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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