Sebastián Silva was on vacation in Cuba when he got the idea for his latest film, Tyrel. “We ran into this group of Americans, mid-20s group of kids, and they were drunk, drinking rum out of the bottle by the shore,” the director tells EW. “Only one of them was black. And for some reason it seemed like he was kind of tailing behind or feeling left out.”
Starring Straight Outta Compton breakout Jason Mitchell, Tyrel follows a young man named Tyler as he goes on weekend vacation to the Catskills, meeting up with his friend’s friends and only realizing once he gets there that he’s the only black guy on the trip. The latent tensions of the situation are exacerbated when, early in the trip — as seen in the exclusive clip above — Tyler is asked to say something in a “black accent.” When Tyler finally caves, he feels awful. “That’s truly the moment that sends him spiraling,” Silva says. “The whole weekend turns into waves of anxiety and insecurities and alienation that are turning [him] into kind of a paranoid [person].”
These insecurities are further fueled by a weekend of heavy drinking in a remote location with a group of men who are almost all strangers to Tyler, and the audience is forced to navigate the dangers from his perspective. Similar to Silva’s 2015 film Nasty Baby, Tyrel builds tension through banal events, because Tyrel is essentially a suspense film about race. (As Silva notes, the title itself is taken from “a microaggression” in the film.) It also features a particularly ominous bro performance from Caleb Landry Jones, which rings of Jordan Peele’s 2017 hit Get Out. But while the horror elements of Get Out signal to the audience that something is off in the world early in that film, Tyrel only makes viewers more unsure of the looming tension. “Tyrel really doesn’t give you a way out,” Silva says. “It’s a movie that’s designed to awaken prejudices and conditioning and social stereotypes within the audience.”
For example, even when some characters in Tyrel display more “woke” behavior — like Roddy Bottum’s Dylan in the clip above, who apologizes to Tyler after the group makes him do the “black accent” — they offer Tyler little catharsis. “[Dylan’s] sense of white guilt is so over-the-top and so awkward to Tyler,” Silva says. Highlighting these complicated dynamics, of prejudices and interactions that aren’t necessarily overtly racist, yet are still alienating and exhausting, is what Tyrel sets out to do.
That Tyrel takes place in upstate New York among young liberals, with many references to the characters’ opposition to President Trump, adds to this complexity. “It shows that you don’t need to be a white nationalist to be maybe racist,” Silva says. “You can be racist by asking stupid questions.”
Silva, who is from Chile, has found that Americans who watch Tyrel often assume there will be violence in the film. But the real horror is more insidious than one person or event, and what Silva is getting at is rooted in a deep and historical wound. Of his protagonist Silva says, “He’s suffering from the accumulation, the heritage of slavery in America.”
Tyrel is playing in select theaters now. Watch an exclusive clip (which contains profanity) above.