Directed by Trey Edward Shults
Opens March 18
A big old family might gather under a single roof in Krisha, but the intriguing indie nonetheless steers clear of home-for-the-holidays formula—it’s more emotional-spiral suspense film than sentimental drama. The movie, a jury-prize winner at last year’s South by Southwest, gets underway as the title character (Krisha Fairchild), a sixty-something ex–wild child with a mane of shoulder-length gray hair, rolls a suitcase up to the door of a well-manicured big-box house on Thanksgiving Day. A black sheep trying to reclaim her place at the table after several years’ exile, she’s soon overwhelmed by all the commotion inside. Dogs bark, cousins wrestle—and Krisha (pronounced Kree-sha) hesitantly assumes the responsibility of cooking the turkey.
Writer-director Trey Edward Shults bookends his feature debut with a couple evocative shots of his protagonist staring straight into the camera—she’s a point of stillness in her own topsy-turvy universe, if not in anyone else’s. The film otherwise feels quite restless: Slow zooms, 360-degree pans, and fluid low-angle bobbing and threading reveal this whole residence to be bursting with life, its ample square-footage notwithstanding. If Shults’s movie, which also employs different aspect ratios and features a skittery percussive score by Brian McOmber, feels a bit too down for whatever stylistically speaking, it’s skillfully sparing enough with the backstory that it always has you hungry for more family dynamics to examine.
During an outdoor smoke break with high-strung brother-in-law Doyle (standout supporting player Bill Wise), Krisha claims that she’s only taking legal pharmaceuticals at the moment—the first of several allusions to her lifelong struggles with substance abuse. The film comes to hinge on a disastrous side conversation the protagonist has with her mostly estranged college-age son (played by Shults himself), during which she gives him the unwelcome advice that he should pursue his childhood passion of filmmaking instead of humdrum business management. (Turns out he actually likes the latter.) After she loses her illusions of cleanly and quickly making amends, it’s only a matter of time until Krisha’s going off the rails—a tectonic mood shift Fairchild, at her best when conveying her character’s barely submerged nasty streak, renders as all too believable.
Krisha is not only about family, it is itself a family affair: Fairchild is Shults’s aunt, his therapist mother appears in the role of one of Krisha’s three sisters, and the writer-director himself has lived in the Montgomery, Texas house where the movie takes place (it belongs to his mother). Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the partially improvised film, then, is that it doesn’t feel the least bit stilted or closed-off. The origins of Krisha’s volcanic anger remain somewhat unclear, but as a species of wounded bird she’s nonetheless recognizable enough. A committed outsider who wants back in, she must now face the likelihood that she’ll never outgrow her pain, or her ability to inflict pain on others. Accordingly, the film puts a knot in your stomach—the character study triggers all the dread of a haunted-house visit.