Sunday, March 20, 2016

Review: Krisha

Image courtesy of A24.
I'll say this for Trey Edward Shults' debut feature: there's never been any other film quite like "Krisha," a dysfunctional family drama that is part Cassavetes, part Altman, part horror movie and a 90-minute character meltdown featuring a bold lead performance.

That being said, while I admired the picture, it's far from perfect. Borrowing some stylistic traits from Terrence Malick - Shults apparently worked on a few Malick and Jeff Nichols films - but not utilizing them as well as those seasoned filmmakers, the style occasionally engulfs the story to an almost distracting extent.

For example, there's a scene in which the nervous lead character (played by Krisha Fairchild, Shults' aunt) prepares a Thanksgiving turkey for her estranged family, who have welcomed her back into the fold after some years of separation, all the while peering over at her relatives, who are parked in front of a TV set watching a football game. The camera lurches back and forth, back and forth and back and forth as the sound of percussion begins to ring louder and louder in the background. The scene is obviously aimed to created a sense of Krisha's increasingly troubled mental state, but the effect is grating.

Shults has said that while the picture is primarily a scripted one, there are scenes of improvisation and these are easy to spot. One such sequence falls shortly after Krisha has arrived and is talking to her loudmouthed sister's husband (Bill Wise). At first, the two have a bit of playful banter that quickly turns a little ugly, but seemingly only due to the fact that the whole scene is improvised. In other words, the flow from one type of conversation to another doesn't feel natural.

Some quibbles aside, "Krisha" is a unique experiment, to say the least. The film was shot for approximately $30,00 in Shults' family home in Texas, with a majority of the cast members being his relatives. Shults has said that the picture came about due to a tragedy involving addiction in his own family and so it should come as no surprise at how intimate and horrifying the film often feels. In fact, the only alleviating moments in this relatively short film involved a pair of dopey young male members of the family whose extracurriculars involve wrestling and watching porn - but believe me, those humorous moments came as a relief.

Although much is left to the imagination, Krisha appears to have long been an addict of some sort and previously abandoned her son, Trey (played by the filmmaker himself). She has come to make amends at Thanksgiving, but quickly loses her balance after a not-so-encouraging conversation early on with her son.

As the evening wears on, Krisha gives into a temptation that causes everything to come spiraling down. In one particularly striking scene, Krisha almost floats around the home as Nina Simone croons and everything moves in slow motion. It's a moment of bliss before the fall, after which the film takes on the feeling of a horror movie, complete with claustrophobic tight angles and camera work that can best be described as intoxicated.

The scenes of dialogue give off the vibe of a mid-1970s Cassavetes movie, while Shults also obviously admires Altman's work from that same decade, utilizing that director's famous zoom-out technique, leaving his lead character appearing isolated from the chattering crowds.

There's a fair amount to admire in Shults' debut, although its overdose of visual style occasionally overpowers all else that is going on in his film. It's the sort of debut that gives promise of good things to come and I'd certainly recommend that, if she's available, Shults invites his aunt back as a cast member. She's a force of nature.

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