Krisha (2016)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Addiction Drama, Family Drama  |   Release Date - Mar 18, 2016 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 81 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Daniel Gelb

After years away from her family, the aging Krisha (Krisha Fairchild) arrives at the home of her younger sister (Robyn Fairchild) for her extended clan's Thanksgiving. Her presence is welcomed with a reserved warmth, as she's spent the last few years battling alcoholism and other substance-abuse problems. Recent breakthroughs have led her to reunite with her family, but there's still a palpable lack of trust from those closest to her -- especially her nephew Trey (filmmaker Trey Edward Shults), whom Krisha desperately wishes to reconnect with. Armed with a lockbox of pharmaceuticals, she settles into her sister's home and begins prep work on the evening's meal. But as the festivities unfold, she finds that the walls she's built up around her have had a lasting impact -- she's more of a guest at the gathering than a member of kin. When the secrets of her past are revealed, her personal demons start to overwhelm her and the dinner looks like a disaster in the making.

Krisha was selected as the Grand Jury Winner for Narrative Feature at 2015's South by Southwest Film Festival, and earlier this year it snagged the Independent Spirit Awards' venerable John Cassavetes Award for the best picture made for less than half a million dollars. Director/writer/producer/actor/editor Shults has clearly been absorbed in telling this story of family strife for some time -- this feature was adapted from his 2014 short of the same name - and his perseverance has paid off: Krisha is an effective jumping-off point for the young filmmaker (born in 1988), who's now working on his sophomore release with distribution company A24.

Shults packs a lot of emotion into this briskly paced, 83-minute movie, and despite the familiarity of its conceit, this is a bold debut feature: It harnesses the unspoken anxiety that any large family gathering can bring about, and filters that dread through the damaged perspective of a recovering addict. Krisha Fairchild gives a soul-bearing performance as the sixtysomething Krisha, and the tight close-ups of her weathered, grief-stricken face as she begins to lose her grip on sobriety are deeply evocative. When the film reaches its staggering climax at Thanksgiving dinner after secrets about Krisha's relationship with Trey are unveiled, the raw familial emotion jumps off the screen.

Shults plays with multiple aspect ratios to heighten the claustrophobia of Krisha's plight, and uses quick cuts and disjointed editing of conversations to emphasize her turbulent psyche. These technically impressive filmmaking quirks help contribute to the disorientating nature of the movie, but it's also likely that they're being used to patch up gaps in the screenplay. Yet while Shults' attempts to balance his cinematic influences with finding his own voice prove uneven at times, he has nonetheless crafted an impressive drama. In addition, Brian McOmber's cacophonous score interplays neatly with the whirling camerawork and overall commotion of the holiday, as dogs run in and out of frame and the characters (nearly all of whom are Shults' immediate family members, including his real-life aunt Krisha) talk with each other in a manner that feels completely naturalistic. The kinetic, unnerving energy of Krisha surely announces Shults' arrival as a promising new talent.