It seems appropriate that as I looked up a needed credit while writing this review that an ad was displayed opposite the desired information advertising Joachim Trier's latest film, Louder Than Bombs, because that is, indeed, the feeling, the overwhelming feeling, that I experienced while watching this remarkable debut feature film from Trey Edward Shults, a film filled with so much explosive silence that it reverberated throughout every cell of my being kind of like a pinball bouncing off the flippers over and over and over again.
Krisha is a remarkable film, a film so explicit with normalcy and wonder and vulnerability and suspense and outright fear that I feel like I became a different human being while watching it. The story is simple enough, Krisha (Krisha Fairchild, The Killing of John Lennon) returns home to the family Thanksgiving dinner after a ten-year absence with impalpable baggage that threatens the entire festivities, but you would be woefully mistaken to believe for a single moment that Krisha will play out like every family drama you've ever seen.
While a relative newcomer, writer/director Shults has obviously reaped benefits from working for Terrence Malick for a period of time, though this association isn't reflected in the ways you might expect in Krisha. Oh sure, you might occasionally see a shot where you find yourself thinking "There's that Malick influence!" but where Shults brings home that influence is in realizing that even in a film with this much substance the smallest details matter.
In Krisha, there are images that matter. There are words, sometimes singular words, that matter. There's music that matters. There's facial expressions that matter. There's even silence that matters.
Shults utilizes all of these moments beautifully in constructing one of 2016's first truly great films. It may be just a small coincidence that Shults has also worked on the year's only other truly great film so far - as a camera pa on Jeff Nichols's remarkable Midnight Special.
But this film, filmed over the course of nine days in his mother's Houston home with a less than six-figure budget, is going to be the film that truly announces Shults to the world and, while she's no stranger to Hollywood, it should be the film that brings the equally remarkable Krisha Fairchild into your household.
At a mere 83 minutes in running time, Shults doesn't waste time in Krisha. I'll say it again - every moment matters. You don't realize how fantastic Fairchild is until it's too late - you've become so completely immersed in her world that you're absolutely gripped by her every word and thought and look and feeling and ache.
It's palpable. It's non-stop.
Seldom has a filmmaker been able to so vividly and transparently capture the inner turmoil of a family gathering so clearly destined to go awry, yet Shults incorporates remarkable performances and a home movie-style approach, especially about 2/3 of the way through the film, that seems like it would be gimmicky yet works in a way that is almost indescribable.
I find myself not wanting to describe too much of the plot, not even the basics that I know you can find readily available online already. It's obvious from Shults's close-up to the point of uncomfortable opening shot that there's trauma, deep trauma, underlying everything that unfolds in In Krisha. Krisha herself wears it in every shot even when she's wearing a painted on smile. Shults, here portraying Krisha's obviously fractured son, wears it every time the camera lingers on his face with his "mother" in the room. The trauma comes electrifyingly to life every time Doyle, Boyhood's Bill Wise, blurts out retorts that are simultaneously funny and sympathetic and piercing.
You can feel the trauma in Brian McOmber's anxiety immersing musical score. You can feel it in D.P. Drew Daniels's immersive and playful and vulnerable lensing that seemingly shifts aspect ratio in tune with Krisha's changing emotions. You can feel it, you can really feel it, in Shults's ensemble cast, a weaving together of professional actors and novices including Shults's real life family members.
You can just feel it. You can feel it everywhere and all the time.
There are films that shift things inside around you from watching them. They seemingly alter your entire genetic make-up. They aren't always perfect films. They don't need to be flawless, because life isn't flawless and the best films aren't afraid of their flaws. Truthfully, I don't know if Krisha is a perfect film but I think it's exactly the film it's supposed to be. It's "real," whatever that means, on a level that is seldom seen in Hollywood these days and it's real in a way that is unflinching and honest and tragic and, quite fortunately, darkly funny.
While Krisha will inevitably be compared to Malick, the truth is that it may more be a soulful twin to Linklater's Boyhood, a film with an entirely different vision yet a similar sense of respect for the little moments and a refusal to look away from the journey.
Krisha picked up the John Cassavetes Award at the 2016 Independent Spirit Awards and recently opened in L.A. and New York via the wondrous folks at A24, the outfit seemingly bringing to theaters the indie world's newest and freshest voices. The film also won both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Award for Narrative Feature at SXSW and opens in Fort Wayne on April 15th as part of its limited nationwide release.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic