‘Tyrel’ Review: Drowning in a Whirlpool of Drunken Dudes

Posted December 4, 2018 8:45 p.m. EST

The title of Sebastián Silva’s film “Tyrel” comes from a momentary mispronunciation of the African-American protagonist’s name, but it speaks to the simmering discomfort summoned by this agonizingly dead-on cringe comedy-drama.

Tyler (Jason Mitchell) is a chef who’s been invited by his close friend Johnny (Christopher Abbott) to spend a snowy weekend at a mountain cabin celebrating the birthday of wild-man artist Pete (Caleb Landry Jones) with a bunch of other guests. Tyler really knows only Johnny, but the others — all white, all dudes — immediately start to include him in their dumb jokes and inane banter. They may have intended to make him feel welcome, but their actions wind up having the opposite effect, as Tyler finds himself increasingly entrapped by their booze-soaked machismo — by their vaguely offensive games, their made-up rituals, their childish horseplay.

There’s also a racial element to many of the exchanges — sometimes veiled, sometimes obvious. It happens to be the weekend of Donald Trump’s inauguration, a fact that at first seems like a narrative grace note, but gradually takes on more significance, as these ostensibly progressive men are somehow both overtly solicitous of and subtly dismissive of Tyler’s opinions.

As more and more friends pile into the crowded house over the weekend, what began as a delicate look at the awkward feeling of being an outsider gradually becomes a mortifying descent into brotastic boorishness. Tyler first tries to fit in, then tries to separate himself out — and with each step finds himself in a new emotional hell. That he’s getting completely soused doesn’t help matters much, even though everybody else is as well.

The impressive handheld camerawork gradually becomes more and more unhinged, as if to keep up with all these unbalanced, inebriated perspectives. Lamps and record players and glasses get knocked over by the characters, but the audience might be forgiven for thinking it’s due to the ground literally shifting beneath people’s feet.

The narrative setup of a racially charged weekend trip, not to mention the sight of Jones playing yet another weirdo who likes to wrestle people, will naturally prompt memories of Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.” But that would not be an entirely apt comparison. Tyler isn’t so much a victim as he is an odd man out who, fueled by his gathering discomfort and inebriation, further loses his bearings.

But race is certainly an undercurrent here, informing and at times exacerbating Tyler’s feelings of alienation. And Mitchell plays him perfectly, capturing the character’s bemusement and embarrassment, his desperation and, later, his surly, slurry dismissiveness.

The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent, particularly Michael Cera, who shows up late in the film, as a rich friend with a wet suit and fur coat, carrying a Trump piñata. His appearance sends the movie in a slightly more surreal direction, but the stranger “Tyrel” gets, the more accurate it feels. The ecosystem of behaviors and attitudes on display is so unnervingly sharp that some of us may well find ourselves wincing in recognition.

‘Tyrel’ is not rated. Running time: 1 hour 26 minutes.