by George Wolf
“It’s Tyler, actually.”
“Oh, my bad.”
The subtle discomforts start early in Tyrel, writer/director Sebastian Silva’s perceptive and slyly intense slice of racially tinged mumblecore, a film that benefits greatly from yet another standout turn from Jason Mitchell.
Mitchell stars as Tyler, an African-American man who is grateful to escape a houseful of in-laws by joining his friend John (Christopher Abbott) on a birthday getaway in the Catskills.
But it’s not John’s birthday. It’s John’s friend Pete’s (Caleb Landry Jones) birthday, and it isn’t long before Tyler is meeting plenty of new faces and realizing his is the only one that isn’t white.
Plus, it just happens to be the weekend of Trump’s inauguration. Perfect.
Amid heavy dialog that’s fast and free-flowing with an improvisational feel, the crowded mountain home becomes a nerve-wracking metaphor for the state of race relations. Silva, the unconventional Chilean filmmaker who mined social anxieties effectively in Nasty Baby and The Maid, continues to subvert expectations through intimate, thoughtful characterizations.
After a long stream of memorable supporting roles (Straight Outta Compton, Mudbound, Detroit, Kong: Skull Island), Mitchell carries this film with a performance that is sympathetic from the start, a key factor Silva leans on to turn our insecurities against us. With each slight, appropriation and assurance that “he didn’t mean anything by that,” Tyler’s feelings become more conflicted, raising the level of concern we have for what might happen.
As is his wont, Silva steers clear of expected plot turns and veers in surprising directions, one of them concerning a friendly Catskills neighbor down the road (Ann Dowd).
Though it’s understandably easy to compare this film to Get Out (especially with Jones in the cast), that comparison itself may be one of the scabs Silva is picking. Why did Jordan Peele’s horror story resonate so brilliantly?
With a focus on casual affronts to identity and the privileged confidence that everything is fine, Tyrel‘s Catskills weekend offers some clues.