The precise genre categorization of Sebastián Silva’s Tyrel is difficult to pin down in concrete terms, namely because it is based entirely on the specific cultural baggage each individual viewer brings to the film. For many, it’s a horror movie; for others, just a wild night out with friends. And it’s that ambiguity that elevates the film’s darkly subtle examination of race relations. There’s no clear villain – at least, no character believes himself to be the villain – in this delicate portrait of the intersection of code-switching and bro culture.
When Tyler (Jason Mitchell) is invited to a birthday weekend at a secluded cabin in the Catskills by his close friend Johnny (Christopher Abbott), it becomes immediately clear that he is the only black guy in the bunch. White in more ways than they could ever know, the friend group already has a clearly defined dynamic, an established language that only serves to further isolate Tyler. As the alcohol starts flowing, the young men become increasingly unhinged, and Tyler’s nightmare swerves into even more chaotic waters.
So much of the film rests on the character of Tyler, a perpetual odd man out who must reconfigure his identity to fit whatever situation he finds himself in at any given moment. He’s caught between two worlds, never truly welcomed into either, and as such he experiences an alienation like no other. With larger than life characters in such films as Straight Outta Compton and Mudbound, Jason Mitchell has been at the forefront of race dissections in the past, but here it isn’t the extreme journey we’ve seen. Instead, the character is much more easily recognizable, more approachable. There’s a poignancy in Tyler’s harsh relatability.
As with many of Silva’s previous films, Tyrel is so personal in its execution that it feels like eavesdropping. Toxic masculinity is easy to spot, but it isn’t always quite so simple when it comes to accurately replicating its impact on film. Silva has a great ear for conversation, even those in his second language, and he is able to capture both the intensity and emotional detriment of male friendships. Through a series of painfully intimate exchanges and objectively idiotic bonding rituals, we learn a great deal about these characters, including those attributes they are far too guarded to share outright.
Tyrel probably won’t tell you anything you don’t already know. There are no easy answers or tidy resolutions. However, it works as a functional icebreaker, a starting point for those conversations we only whisper when we’re around those we know already share our beliefs. A raw, fly-on-the-wall window into a world of isolation you either know all too well or are blind to altogether, this brutal portrayal strips away metaphor and symbolism to simply display the world as seen through Tyler’s eyes.