Sebastián Silva has never been one to shy away from prickly subjects. The New York City-based Chilean director has managed to make a career out of pointed social commentary wrapped in dark comedies that leave audiences uneasy. He continued that streak with Tyrel, his latest film which screened at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Set in a house in the Catskills, Silva’s film follows Tyler (Jason Mitchell) as he joins his friends for a weekend of debauchery. Only, as Tyler soon finds out, he’s the only black guy there. While comparisons to Get Out are unavoidable, Tyrel is more discomfiting in its portrayal of what one audience member at the premiere screening in Park City dubbed “white nonsense.”
Talking about the film and trying to explain what drew him to tell a quiet story of what it means to be the only black guy in “Whitesville,” Silva pointed again and again to his fascination with telling stories about alienation. Though, in fact, the story and the film’s shoot came rather quickly to him when another project of his fell apart. Recruiting his friends, he made this indie flick in full collaboration with his lead actor. “I’m not from here so what the fuck am I saying?” he joked at a post-screening Q&A. It’s why he encouraged a lot of improv on his set, trusting Mitchell to imbue Tyler (which one person unnervingly calls “Tyrel” early on in the film) with the authenticity he needed.
He expounded on his desire to tell the story of a black American in the live episode recording of the Slate’s “Represent” podcast telling its hosts that those micro-aggressions and feelings of alienation are something “that, as a foreigner, you see all the time.” Silva may have lived in the US for quite a long time, but that doesn’t disappear; he sees it constantly in the streets of New York City. And he aimed to create a film that didn’t offer any answers; that made you uncomfortable, never giving you the chance to cheer or pat yourself on the back for your wokeness.
Additional reporting by Vanessa Erazo.