by Philip Price
“Krisha” has a lot of interesting ideas going for it, but one begins to doubt its ability to bring them all together as it races towards its final minutes and seriously begs the question of what exactly everything is building to. Opening with a close-up on the epic face of the titular Krisha (Krisha Fairchild) writer/director/editor and actor Trey Edward Shults goes from here onto deconstructing the pain that is hidden beneath the cracks and crevices of Krisha's skin. The glaring first shot presents us with a composed if not slightly faltering facade surrounded by darkness. We are seconds in and we already have a million questions. Though the film only runs a mere eighty-three minutes Shults is careful to build dynamics and define relationships both in relation to our title character and throughout the supporting cast so as to make the impact of the final act all the more unnerving. Unnerving would be the key word given the audience is privy to only pieces of information in each scene. There are moments of frustration where you begin to wonder if Shults is holding back too much; keeping the plot details as restrained as his music, but as if he knows the fuse is running short the director will intermittently deliver montages of movement and sporadic sound that not only capture the chaos of a house on Thanksgiving day, but the swirling of thoughts, conflictions and turmoil that are rushing through Krisha’s mind. Despite the fact it taps into the tone of a psychological horror film, “Krisha” is in no way intended to be a scary movie. If anything, the film is a family drama steeped in the secrets we all keep from one another and the boiling point when they all come spilling out. It is a deconstruction of the idea of what happens when you don't like the people you're forced to love. You don't get to choose your family, but more importantly you don't get to choose who they become and Krisha can't stand the superficial kin she's related to. As the day the film documents goes on, histories are unraveled and truths are revealed to the point one knows they're experiencing something absorbing, but can't help but to shake the feeling more deserves to be said.
Arriving at her younger sister Robyn's (Robyn Fairchild) house for Thanksgiving weekend, Krisha is first introduced to a new nephew-in-law of sorts, Alex (Alex Dobrenko), as Robyn and Krisha's other sister, Vicky (Victoria Fairchild), have just recently acquired their first grandbaby through Alex and their daughter Olivia (Olivia Grace Applegate). There are the husbands in Dr. Becker (Chris Doubek) and the comic relief that is Doyle (Bill Wise) while a string of other children including Logan (Bryan Casserly), Chase (Chase Joliet) and Augustine (Augustine Frizzell) aid in populating the upscale suburban home on which they've all descended to celebrate the one weekend a year where being with family is an obligation. Coming in late to the proceedings is Trey (Shults) whom Krisha immediately flocks toward if not with a certain amount of hesitation. The attention and affection is not returned by Trey. One can sense the moment Krisha walks in the house that this is family she hasn't seen in some time and that beyond the initial exchanging of hugs and hellos there isn't much to say to one another. It is all slightly awkward despite the fact Shults returns to the friendly bickering of the younger generation as well as the family activities of arm wrestling, football watching and outdoor recreation necessary to make the day feel like a legitimate holiday. Instead of holing herself up in her room until dinner is served, Krisha makes a point to get involved and keep herself busy. Taking charge of the cooking duties, Krisha prepares the mammoth turkey her sister has purchased for the entire family. In light of this, both Robyn and Vicky leave to go get their mother (Billie Fairchild) so that she may be a part of the family tradition for as long as she has left. As the day continues on and we become privy both to Krisha's personal past and how it relates to the family at large we come to understand better the atmosphere that seemingly deflates every time she walks in a room.
As I said in my opening sentence, “Krisha” has a lot of interesting ideas, but more than this it has an interesting perspective on which to approach these ideas. The ideas themselves are that of family and the ties that bind, the continuing generations and how what was once so innocent can become corrupted or jaded by time. Krisha glides through her upstairs guest room to see the nightstands and coffee tables flooded with old photographs of her childhood. She sees herself, but as someone she no longer knows and certainly doesn't recognize. She sees her mother, her beautiful young mother who is now resigned to a wheelchair and must be questioned every time she sees her family to confirm if she remembers them or not. There are old VHS tapes, filled with birthday parties and childhood rooms filled with trophies and pictures that tell of a time missed out on by Krisha. We get little more than the explanation she stayed away to find the better person inside herself. Still, it's clear her family has always thought something less of her, something that inherently painted her as the black sheep, but oddly enough it is in this pampered suburban world that Krisha's clothes, affection for her dog and too hip to be square attitude are the few things that scream authenticity. There is something to be said for legacy as Shults is just as interested in delving into the history that has brought this family to where it is today as he is deconstructing the psychology of his titular character. Krisha seems to genuinely want to make things better between she and her family. She is clear on the fact she has burned them before and that some may not even care to welcome her back into the fold, but she is willing to give it a try no matter how anxious it makes her (as the long, uncut opening shot shows us). Krisha is not only present to make up for lost time, but she is hopeful for forgiveness and in spite of all that has come before, maybe even repair the thoughts that linger in the minds of the younger family members that will be the ones to tell stories of her after she is gone.
The conclusion is satisfactory enough and it of course makes perfect sense in relation to what has occurred throughout the film, but Shults teases his audience so incessantly that he makes his eighty-three minute feature feel much longer. The downside of staying with “Krisha” the entire film is that the audience is asked to put together pieces of the puzzle that are never explicitly explained and are neither just vague enough to suggest anything concrete. It would have been enlightening to see what Robyn and Vicky's discussions were on their way to pick up their mother or Olivia explaining to Alex why everyone is so cautious around her Aunt, but instead of taking up more time with dialogue or stand-alone development we observe things the way Krisha does, through what she sees. In this regard, Shults certainly has a flair for the visual. He enjoys his lengthy and uninterrupted Steadicam shots that glide through the house and out into the back yard constantly building the claustrophobic atmosphere that seems to ever be closing in around Krisha. The editing in itself is reason enough to see the film as it conveys not only Krisha's slowly deteriorating mental state, but creates a kind of non-linear timeline that plays better to the development and understanding of Krisha's mood than had the story simply been delivered chronologically. Paired with the budding score from Brian McOmber Shults takes Krisha, the character and the film, as well as his audience on an emotional rollercoaster that by minute eighty-two presents us with that unnerving feeling that first rushed over us when the blood red title card appeared hinting there would be more to perceive than directly receive. “Krisha” is an engaging, if not modest film that succeeds due to a filmmaker who knows so precisely what he wants, but might have been even more compelling had an outsider to this clearly personal project been allowed to implement a few questions.