There’re a lot of comparisons between writer/director Sebastián Silva’s Tyrel and Jordan Peele’s Get Out simply because each feature a Black male engaging with a group of white individuals in a remote New York location. Both do explore race, but their approaches are so vastly different that to discuss them in the same breath feels like an oversimplification, doing an equal disservice to both. What Silva’s created in Tyrel is far less hyperreal, which makes it far more terrifying as the open-ended nature of the film raises far more questions than answers. In Get Out there’s a clear good guy-bad guy, whereas in Tyrel, there is only uncertainty born out of doubt and discomfort.
Not wanting to be stuck at home with his girlfriend’s family, Tyler (Jason Mitchell) opts to join his buddy John (Christopher Abbott) for a weekend trip to the Catskills where John’s friends are gathering to celebrate his friend Pete’s (Caleb Landry Jones) birthday. While all the boys are welcoming and inviting, Tyler feels uncomfortable due to their inside jokes and the fact that Tyler is the only Black person present. This discomfort increases as the weekend rolls on, more friends arrive, and the drinking intensifies.
Tyrel exudes a cinema vérité style, as if the audience is watching a documentary which just so happens to utilize a few camera tricks to aid in the uneasiness which is already flowing naturally. Initially, the camera appears to float as though untethered, shifting locations to capture the interactions among the characters. Quickly, however, it becomes clear that the camera is moored to Tyler. It’s not that the film isn’t interested in capturing the moments among the celebrants, it’s just more interested in how Tyler responds to them. Take the sequence in which Tyler first meets John’s friends: the camera holds on Tyler while the rest are only heard off-screen. The audience doesn’t see them until either Tyler makes a move toward them – thereby moving the camera to show to them – or they come into his space. This immediately sets the tone moving forward that the camera is Tyler’s and the film is filtered through his experience. Adding to the growing sense of claustrophobia, Silva keeps the images on the outer rim of the frame in a constant state of haze with a growing sense of clarity around Tyler, like a ring of focus. This ensures that the audience, subconsciously or not, is kept in a constant state of unease.
Building off the psychological discomfort created by the cinematography and direction, the narrative within Tyrel utilizes the natural unease of social anxiety to cultivate tension. For example, in that initial meeting, Mitchel infuses Tyler with discomfort as he stands apart from the group. It’s not until Tyler moves to engage or is engaged that he visibly softens, perhaps as a means of coming across as warm and open to these relative unknowns, all while gauging who they are. At first, this could be considered just the normal experience of someone meeting new people, but then the overall tone shifts when John’s friend Max (Max Born) accidently calls Tyler “Tyrel.” While it may seem innocuous at first, Tyler stiffens as though a dog whistle’s been blared. Then, when Pete seemingly hounds Tyler as to why he doesn’t remember meeting Pete before, the audience can visibly see Tyler’s defenses go up. Where they begin as social awkwardness, Tyler receives them as microaggressions on his person. Considering he’s the only Black person in the group, as well as an outsider to this group of friends, save John, suddenly a layer of danger arises where there was nothing but a joyous reunion of friends.
Silva’s exploration of social and racial tensions becomes even more clear when, later, the camera specifically places Tyler in center frame from a distance, which serves to suggest both a physical and metaphorical smallness as more strangers appear. As the camera holds, the audience can plainly see the math Tyler is doing, even if subconsciously, as he tries to work out who’s arrived and what it means for his safety. Up until this point, no threats have been made and no cross words have been spoken, yet Silva’s able to pack every scene with palatable tension and conflicting intent. Now an argument can be made that Tyler’s in no actual danger as he’s being welcomed by a group of men of different races, financial means, and sexual orientation. Yet as the weekend goes on and the drinking continues, this group of men, alone in the woods, begin to act out on their own frustrations toward the world at large – established by Silva to be set during President Trump’s first term in office. More than any other moment that came before or comes after in Tyrel, the exact moment when the celebrants release their frustrations has an undeniable sense of danger that something may befall Tyler at any moment , without there even being a suggestion of violent intent toward him. The fact that this even arises in the audience’s mind speaks volumes about the complex issues Silva’s presenting within Tyrel. The very fact that Silva has Tyler reading The Lord of the Flies only seems to solidify this, as the novel examines a breakdown of civilization and suggests that, in some small part, even the most innocuous engagements carry with them social danger.
Building upon the cinema vérité style, Tyrel opts to present itself as a slice-of-life-experience instead of following traditional narrative structures. It gives us a glimpse into strange revelries over one weekend. This may distract or disturb some audiences expecting some kind of grand revelation or surprise, yet taking this approach makes the experience of Tyrel all the more chilling. The fact that so little is explained makes the film feel both authentic, as it shuns needless exposition, and frustrating, as the audience is just as much on the outs as Tyler. By doing this, Silva ensures that pressures of all kinds are placed on Tyler until he, and the audience, are burning like an overloaded pressure cooker.
The best thing audiences can do with Tyrel is watch with an open mind. Don’t go into it expecting another Get Out, but something – in many ways – more disturbing for its reality. The performances by the entire cast are fantastic in the way none feel like they are performing, merely reacting to each other. Combined with Silva’s encroaching directorial style and an inclination toward making the frame edges fuzzy, Tyrel may as well be some kind of documentary nightmare and not a scripted experience. Even when the film ends, its conclusion is so enigmatic that it lingers as the credits roll. What happens next, Silva seems to suggest, is up to us.
In theaters beginning December 5th, 2018, with a slow roll-out continuing into 2019. To find tickets in your area, head to the official Tyrel website.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.