Sebastián Silva’s latest, TYREL, is one of the cringe-comedies based on dissecting white and black relationships through the turbulent Trump election era. Silva has explained multiple times that he shot TYREL before fan favourite GET OUT hit the theatres; TYREL was shot over the Trump presidency inauguration weekend. This timestamp is pivotal in the film’s relevance: both movies, and others like DEAR WHITE PEOPLE (adapted into a 2017 TV series), take on an important cultural influence from this political change.
TYREL and GET OUT share a similar premise and some uncanny parallels. Both films are set in a large house in the woods, where the black protagonist is excluded while drinking copious amounts of alcohol with vaguely racist white people, who only get more obnoxious as they drink. Caleb Landry Jones plays the main antagonist in both movies (Pete in TYREL and Jeremy in GET OUT). TYREL – to the film’s detriment – falls as the more subtle of the two. TYREL mirrors GET OUT if you remove the outlandish horror and comedy, but TYREL is arguably more sinister – it chooses to closely follow a narrative of mundane, real life.
The story follows the protagonist, Tyler (Jason Mitchell), who wishes to get out of his Manhattan flat, that has been overrun by his girlfriend’s family drama. His buddy, Johnny (Christopher Abbott), offers an oasis – a secluded cabin in the woods up in the Catskills. The oasis ends up being a mirage, as the weekend is centred around celebrating the birthday of one of Johnny’s friends. Tyler only knows Johnny, and Johnny’s friends are all white. The discomfort begins early when Tyler and Johnny are pushing their beat-up car down a quiet wooden road en-route to the cottage in up-state New York, and that discomfor resonates (as a white woman, I share little demographically with Tyler, other than groups of white, obnoxiously drunk, fraternising men make us both uneasy). The scene cuts to loud, shrieking, uncivilised battle cries juxtaposed with the melody of R.E.M’s Shiny Happy People.
Here’s Johnny(’s friends).
Despite acting like a hunting pack, Johnny’s friends are brashly welcoming. In the wake of overwhelming testosterone and copious amounts of alcohol, the namesake TYREL comes from the first time Tyler meets Johnny’s friends. An awkward exchange of shoulder shrugs ensues as they mistakenly assume his name is ‘Tyrel’. It isn’t clear whether the mix up is race related, with ‘Tyrel’ sounding more stereotypically African-American than ‘Tyler’. Nuances like this appear subtly throughout the film, even if naming the film after the misnomer is less so.
The group’s lack of cultural intelligence comes to a head when Tyler is asked, during a game, to do a “black accent”. The insensitivity of the drinking games show ignorance and disturbing rituals – including the burning of a religious painting and the blatant disrespect of a Cuban voodoo doll. The hidden micro-aggressions of racial prejudice create the elephant in the room that singles out Tyler. Skin colour is made the predominant difference as Nico (Nicolas Arze) is Argentinian and Dylan (Roddy Bottum) is gay, making them stand out in minority amongst the other white friends.
Tyler makes one true friend over the weekend: Cosmo the pitbull. Pitbulls have garnered a poor reputation from the public, with the media addressing them as an aggressive and dangerous breed (a stigma slowly being undone). The friendship between the misunderstood Tyler and Cosmo emphasises the simplicity of friendship when differences are placed aside.
TYREL is a horror film of real life interaction. While this makes the film slow moving and dull in moments, the mundanity shows the social implications and damages of casual racism. TYREL chooses to illustrate the experience of casual racial isolation, rather than speaking out about the experience. To be fair to Silva, isolated people don’t tend to speak out much either.