Eye For Film >> Movies >> Tyrel (2018) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Tyler (Jason Mitchell) is the outsider in the group. He's accepted a friend's invitation to go up to a cabin in the Catskills, but he didn't realise there were going to be other people there. It's okay - he's a friendly guy - but he has that caution that everybody who frequently finds themselves on the receiving end of prejudice will relate to. All the other guys are white. Are they as nice as they initially seem, or could he find himself facing hostility?
There's a small moment early in the film when Tyler's name is misheard as Tyrel. The psychology behind the error is probably not what he assumes, but it's one of those little things that can just set a person on edge. Writer/director Sebastián Silva proves expert at picking up on the microaggressions and careless comments that can create fear, concern or just tiredness in those at the sharp end. The way the other guys assume that Tyler will have a particular hatred of Donald Trump. The way they look to him when, during a game, one of them is required to speak in a 'black accent'. And it's not all about race. One of the guys, who is openly gay, calls out the casual usage of the word 'faggot'. In another game, another is asked to explain what a sex change is - he actually does a pretty good job, but there's a fair bit of nervous giggling. That there are belittling comments made about women almost goes without saying.
There are a lot of games played over the course of the weekend, and a lot of alcohol is consumed. As everyone gets drunk, Tyler becomes more and more uncomfortable. He tries to excuse himself from situations whose precarity the others may be completely unaware of. Although the framing of the film means we're very much seeing things from his point of view, we can still see the others beginning to regard him as unreasonable and hostile - even after an impromptu wrestling match which leaves Tyler bruised and shaken.
The story doesn't follow a simple formula. There's a degree to which what we see is unreliable, because everybody is drunk and Silva's camera gives the viewer a drunken perspective too. His choice of angles and the isolated cabin in the woods setting suggests impending horror, but the way events pan out is not really the point. This is a film about America's difficult relationship with race and the way that unresolved issues result in ongoing damage. Regardless of whether or not Tyler is in serious danger, he is being damaged. In the end, it doesn't really make much difference to him whether that's a result of intentional racist hostility now or the legacy of racism he's experienced in the past; whether those little comments, that awkwardness, that sense of exclusion are meant to cause harm or are completely unconscious. And whilst he's taking the brunt of the damage, the situation is uncomfortable for everyone - the experience of prejudice is poisoning what could have been a great weekend.
Tyrel is important in that it doesn't present the audience with obvious racist caricatures. These are guys who seem fun to be around, their laughter and camaraderie appealing, even their stupid antics often rather endearing. Of course, that would require overlooking a few things. In this way, the film challenges its audience to question their own contributions to social exclusion, but it doesn't do so without sympathy - after all, Tyler wants to be part of the group too. It's a complicated, multi-layered film that plays out partly as a party, partly as a thriller, all the while with something smarter going on underneath. Doubtless a lot of viewers will walk away not getting it, but perhaps, over time, the micro-contributions made by narratives of this sort will get their message through.Reviewed on: 09 Nov 2018