in case of emergency poster

3.5 stars

In Case of Emergency (2020)

Documentary Feature
Director: Carolyn Jones
Cast: Cathlyn Robinson, Galina Chavez, Jennifer Hanks, Sheryl Hurst, Rabih Saad

Premise: Follows emergency nurses and their patients in seven unique settings across the U.S from urban to rural, shedding light on some of the biggest health care crises facing Americans today

The type of person who works in the chaotic and unpredictable world of Emergency Department medical care has long been something I’ve deeply admired. I simply don’t know how people can harness the amount of emotional strength and the resilience it takes to thrive in that environment day after day. Carolyn Jones’ documentary In Case of Emergency showcases that strength and resilience while also humanizing the profession.

The film gives viewers an all-encompassing, cross-country view of multiple subjects at different areas of hospital emergency departments. Such specialties as flight nurses and trauma nurses are highlighted in wonderfully vibrant footage shot in an engaging and authentic fly-on-the-wall manner. The nurses featured in the film confide to the camera some of their darkest moments in their careers while also demonstrating the enormous levels of compassion to care for patients who enter their doors. Thus balancing the hardships with the triumphs. One anecdote shared by one of the nurses involves a simple request made by a patient. As she tells the story and explains the meaning behind the gesture that was requested by the patient, you can see the emotional effect it had on her and you’re likely to feel the same way.

Not only does In Case of Emergency spotlight the profession itself, it also presents a sweeping look at emergency healthcare as a safety net for society as well as a reflection of its darkest issues. Filmed mostly before the COVID-19 pandemic, the film rightfully positions the world of Emergency medical services as the front lines for some of America’s biggest issues. It touches on the opioid crisis as well as the limited infrastructure built to handle mental health issues. Seeing the nurses in the film explain the revolving door nature of some of these issues in their departments lends a level of sadness to the film. Though, the compassion and the candor present throughout the documentary crystalizes that sadness into an urge for us as a society to do better.

The majority of In Case of Emergency was filmed in 2019. However, it covers the COVID-19 pandemic through sequences that frame the documentary. These sequences bookend the film and provide a sobering look at the toll the pandemic has taken on those on the front lines. Seeing the change in one nurse’s mental health during COVID-19 pandemic presents such a stark contrast to the footage we saw of her from just one year previous. The steps she takes after a shift just to enter her house safely is enough to remind you just how much things have changed during the pandemic.

Therein lies what is In Case of Emergency‘s greatest and most lasting impact. There are bound to be a deluge of documentaries (and narratives) that pick apart this time in history from every conceivable angle. The power of In Case of Emergency is in the way it documents its subjects in the relative normal era before COVID and then shows us the toll of the global pandemic on their resolve. It acts as a reminder that heroes are constantly working on the frontline of society’s harshest realities and that they deserve to be recognized even when we aren’t facing unprecedented times.

Screening virtually at the 29th Heartland Film Festival from Oct. 8-18, In Case of Emergency will also screen at Tibbs Drive-In on Oct. 15.


About the Writer: Matt Hurt is the creator of He also created, hosts, and produces The Obsessive Viewer, Anthology, and Tower Junkies podcasts. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and lives in Indianapolis with his cat Pizza Roll. 

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