Trey Edward Shults’ debut feature “Krisha” is a raw, passion project about addiction and the damage it can inflict on a family. Based partly on Shults’ own turbulent family life, the film was made for around $15,000 and shot in the director’s family home over a period of nine days.
In addition, while Shults plays a supporting role in the film, his aunt Krisha Fairchild plays the titular protagonist; his mother, Robyn Fairchild, plays Krisha’s sister; and his own grandmother plays his grandmother. In this regard “Krisha” quite literally a “home movie” — that went on to gain overwhelming critical acclaim at the 2015 South by Southwest film festival — giving it a layer of authenticity and intimacy it wouldn’t otherwise have.
“Krisha” can be uncomfortable to watch, and it certainly doesn’t build to a neat and happy conclusion, which is somewhat foreshadowed by the film’s ominous, surrealistic opening scene: a close-up of a disheveled Krisha surrounded by black, staring intensely off into the distance, while Brian McOmber’s eerie and unnerving electronic score flairs up in the background.
After that, it cuts to a mundane residential neighborhood and watch as Krisha arrives at her sister’s house for Thanksgiving. Krisha hasn’t seen her sister, her brother-in-law, her nieces and nephews or her grandmother in 10 years, due to drug/alcohol troubles, and is hoping to make amends with everyone, especially her estranged son, Trey (played by Shults himself).
At first, things start out warm and peaceful: Krisha is welcomed with open arms, and pleasantries are exchanged. Krisha even takes on the important job of cooking the turkey, showing initiative on her part to rejoin the familial circle. Yet, this familial tranquility is not meant to last; past demons are brought up, and cracks begin to reappear in the foundation.
Ultimately, “Krisha” is less about substance abuse and relapse and more about the long-term negative affects addiction can have on those around the abuser.
For Krisha, the obstacle isn’t necessarily drugs and alcohol but the pressure, the embarrassment and the terror of confronting the ones she loves.
To his credit, Shults doesn’t resort to any cheap melodrama or manipulation when dealing with the film’s big moments. Most of the time, he lets the tender, heartbreaking interactions between Krisha and her various family members unfold without any bells or whistles.
On top of that, at a brisk 80 minutes, Shults keeps the film moving at a steady, unhurried pace. He’s not in a hurry to tell his deeply personal story; the transition from tranquility to chaos is gradual and organic, as opposed to sudden and forced.
And all of this is anchored by the 65-year-old Fairchild, who gives a powerfully understated performance that draws both sympathy and frustration from the audience.
In terms of appearance, “Krisha” primarily uses a minimalistic cinema verite style, consisting of lengthy, uninterrupted shots, allowing for maximum authenticity. During these scenes, the camera is often at a distance, making the audience feel like visitor/voyeur and emphasizing the emotional and mental distance between Krisha and her family members, as well. Along with the realist style are fast, trippy montages interspersed throughout, intensifying as more familial turmoil is brought to the surface.
In the end, it’s better to perhaps look at “Krisha” as a form of therapy for Shults and his family. As is the case with most directorial debuts, it’s a solid feature but doesn’t cut as deep as it should. While the ending is intense and hallucinogenic, it’s also abrupt.
Also, Shults doesn’t flesh out some of the other family members’ characters, particularly his own. Being Krisha’s son, he should have played a much larger role. Aside from an early conversation between him and Krisha, he stays curiously off to the side most of the time.
Additionally, we’re given very little information in regard to Krisha’s time as an addict.
Despite these issues, “Krisha” is still a worthwhile and intimate feature, showing that Shults has potential to become a great filmmaker.