The trailer for Tyrel makes it appear to tread the same ground as Jordan Peele’s Get Out, and while the premise is essentially similar, the tone is much more grounded. Essentially, Sebastián Silva’s mix of uncomfortable drama and even more uncomfortable comedy depicts the kind of real-world situation that Get Out extrapolated in horrific and fantastical—and, in the end, more effective—ways.
Mudbound’s Jason Mitchell stars as African-American Tyler, who accepts an invitation from his Caucasian friend Johnny (Christopher Abbott) to take a jaunt to the Catskills for a birthday party at a remote house. The trip is fraught with difficulty right from the beginning. We first meet the duo as they push their car, which has run out of gas, toward their destination. Upon arrival, they meet birthday boy Pete (Caleb Landry Jones, another link to Get Out), Nico (Nicolas Arze), the owner of the home, and more of Johnny’s pals, and as they get to know each other and settle into their weekend of revelry, Tyler seems outwardly accepted into the otherwise all-white-male gathering, but little comments and actions that feel like microaggressions begin to pile up.
When Nico says of his wife’s choice of décor, “She likes everything white,” you can accept that he doesn’t mean anything by it. When another of the group gets Tyler’s name wrong (giving the film its title), it seems innocent. Then Pete insists he’s met Tyler before and Tyler is pretty sure he hasn’t, and it’s evident Pete is mistaking him for another black guy he’s encountered. And when they all sit down for a game that has them reading a classic line from The Silence of the Lambs in voices picked out of a hat, one of the selections is “black accent.” The attempts by the group to mollify and defuse the situation only wind up making it even more awkward.
Silva, who launched this low-cost project when a bigger film fell through, quickly and efficiently establishes the bros-only camaraderie among the gang, bringing together a bunch of actor friends and shooting at Arze’s actual house with a largely handheld camera. The familiar, rowdy energy among the dudes is inclusive enough that they casually trade shots back and forth with their one gay pal (Roddy Bottum, whose character is credited as Dylan though he’s addressed by the others as “Roddy”), but Tyler doesn’t know how to deal with it as the carrying-on becomes louder, raunchier and ever more lubricated. When Alan (Michael Cera), turns up on the second day wearing an outrageous costume, Tyler finds him easier to bond with, perhaps because he addresses the elephant in the room (donning a wetsuit to take a dip in a freezing river, Alan makes a quip about not being the only black guy there). Ultimately, Tyler begins to overcompensate, becoming even more bombed than the other partiers—which only separates him from them further.
There’s a basic ring of truth to the presentation of unfettered and unhinged machismo on display in Tyrel, and the way these dudes cut loose into debauchery when they’re away from civilization. (The party takes place the weekend of Donald Trump’s inauguration, and though the guys violate Trump in effigy, it’s an unforced irony that these guys are behaving in pretty deplorable ways.) Dylan’s increasing feelings of isolation are nicely handled by Mitchell and Silva’s framing, though as Tyrel goes on, it loses sight of the racial element, and thus its potency. This could ultimately be the story of someone of any race who goes to a wild party full of strangers with whom he or she has little in common, lacking the sort of dramatic diversions and confrontations that would give it real juice. Even when Tyler flees the house and winds up at the home of an older interracial couple (Reg E. Cathey and Ann Dowd), there are no additional points made, just more feelings of discomfort.
In the end, for all his film’s observant moments, Silva doesn’t make the most of the opportunity he sets up for himself to go to some truly provocative places. Rather than pay off in a reckoning or revelation, Tyrel just sort of ends, on a freeze-frame image that makes a statement already well-established at the movie’s half-hour mark. It may be worth seeing if you’re into the fly-on-the-wall experience of watching men behaving badly, though you’ll likely only remember bits and pieces the morning after.