Sundance 2018: Nothing Happens in Sebastián Silva's Party Film 'Tyrel'
by Alex Billington
January 26, 2018
There's a time and place for films where nothing really happens, but this is not one of those times. Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Silva is a regular at Sundance, having brought his films Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus and Magic Magic in years past. He's back again to premiere his latest film, Tyrel, and unfortunately this film is a huge let down. I'm just going to state it right up front: nothing happens in this film. It has all this underlying tension, but none of it leads to anywhere, and none of it means anything. I'm starting to think I just do not like the films Silva makes, mostly because nothing happens. They're boring exercises in telling dull, dry stories that play well at festivals, but have no place in the bigger cinematic universe. Which is unfortunate, because I was really hoping his film Tyrel might have something to say, but alas it does not.
Tyrel is based on a supposedly true story, where one of his friends rented a house in the woods and hosted a party. They took a selfie there and he saw the photo and noticed there was one black guy hanging out with this big group of white guys. So he decided to make a movie about that. This film is the opposite of Get Out - instead of something bad happening, or discovering there's some sinister plot behind this party, it's just about a bunch of dumbass young guys hanging out and being stupid for a weekend at a house out in the forest. Jason Mitchell stars as Tyler, the main character, and his friend who brings him along is Johnny, played by Christopher Abbott. Caleb Landry Jones & Michael Cera also make notable appearances, but everyone else is forgettable. Unless you care about what this party is like, there is really nothing here.
I understand what the film is trying to do - it's trying to subvert the cliche idea that something bad is going to happen. Instead, it is designed around Tyler's experiences during this weekend to make us feel that tension. It's showing us what it's like to be a black man in this day and age, where you are always worried something is going to happen, or they're out to get you, or these people are racist, or whatever. I get it. But it doesn't really amount to much. And aside from this, all that happens in the film is that a bunch of friends get together for a drunken, wacky weekend. That's it. There are a few various personalities being examined, but there's nothing deep or interesting about them. And worst of all, Sebastián Silva has nothing to say - the film is just this bland attempt at showing what it's like when a group of friends come together to have fun. Come on, put in a bit more of an effort to actually have something to say if you're making a film these days.
The lead performance by the usually talented Jason Mitchell is acceptable, but not impressive in any way. He's much, much better in Mudbound, since the filmmaker behind that film actually knows what she's doing and works to craft meaningful performances. Silva just seems happy with putting a bunch of people in front of a camera, making them act dumb or weird or whatever, and then filming that and somehow editing a boring narrative feature around this footage. Tyrel is a party film, nothing more, nothing less, and includes perhaps the tiniest amount of social commentary. But it seems like he doesn't understand the culture in America, and is instead trying to show us how friends interact. Which is boring to watch on the big screen, especially when other indie filmmakers like the Duplass Brothers can do this much better. What a let down.
Alex's Sundance 2018 Rating: 5 out of 10
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