Director: Trey Edward Shults
Cast: Krisha Fairchild, Robyn Fairchild, Bill Wise, Chris Doubek, Trey Edward Shults, Billie Fairchild, Victoria Fairchild
MPAA Rating: (for language, substance abuse and some sexual content)
Running Time: 1:23
Release Date: 3/18/16 (limited); 4/1/16 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | April 1, 2016
Nobody sets out to become the villain, and no one sees himself or herself in the role of the villain of the story—especially one's own story. Within the context of a family dinner on Thanksgiving, Krisha (Krisha Fairchild) comes about close to fulfilling that role as a person can. She's a powder keg of insecurities and resentment waiting to detonate. It's difficult to tell if Krisha shows us the moment when the fuse is lit. If it does, it might be during the film's second, long-take shot.
Take your pick. Is it the moment when she steps in a small puddle of water while wearing flip-flops? Is it before that, when she realizes she has walked from her pickup truck to the wrong house? Is it before even that? Perhaps it happens in her first moment of the film, when she remembers that she has forgotten her suitcase in the back of the truck (The actual first shot of the film stares at Krisha's face, which is as impassive as can be, against a nondescript backdrop, and the shot is repeated at the end, when the face is far from impassive then).
No, Krisha's fuse was lit, we gather, before she even parked her truck. It has been lit for decades—maybe most of her life. How many times she has exploded is unclear, although we also can determine that there was at least one major eruption about a decade ago—the last time she saw her family. We learn that she's an addict. She has been away from her family to "do the work" and get healthy.
Now, she has returned into the fold. At first, we're unsure if her overall unease and flashes of frustration are simply nerves or a sign of something deeper—some long-seated pain, a mental health issue, or both. What we do know is that she is nervous and quick to become irritated over minor inconveniences, but we can also notice that she is a different person when the family comes into the picture. On their part, the family members are polite but clearly walking on eggshells around her. They're somewhere between worrying that something might happen with Krisha and being certain that it will. They may not see her as the antagonist of their happy get-together, but most of them realize that there's the distinct possibility of her turning into one.
Writer/director Trey Edward Shults, in his feature film debut (an adaptation of his earlier short of the same name), follows events from Krisha's perspective. A few of times, it's through the use of a subjective, first-person camera, such as two shots of her walking from the upstairs hallway of the house to the stairs leading down to where the rest of the family is. The first time, it's with a bit of promise, as the framed photographs of the family seem to propel her forward. The second time, there's no light at the end of hall. The photos still propel her. This time, it's toward a big, black void of nothingness.
Otherwise, Shults' camera simply, expertly moves with Krisha as she attempts to maneuver her way into a sense of normalcy with—of belonging to—her family again. It's dizzying—literally at one point, when the camera traces her circular pacing through the kitchen while, ostensibly, keeping an eye on the turkey, as the other family members talk amongst themselves. The shot resolves itself as Krisha's son Trey (Shults) mirrors her motion on the other side of the kitchen counter. He doesn't continue in the circle, though. He simply walks out of sight, away from her. Krisha watches his movement, and there's a crushing realization that he has, essentially, exited her orbit.
At this point, it's probably important to note the obvious connections between fiction and reality. Yes, Shults indeed plays a character that shares his first name, as does almost every other actor within the film.
Fairchild, who gives a tremendous performance in the title role, is Shults' aunt, and the actress' sisters Robyn (Shults' mother) and Victoria play Krisha's sisters, who share the same names as their real-life counterparts. Their (the characters and the actresses) mother Billie eventually arrives for dinner in a devastating moment in which the family matriarch, who is suffering from Alzheimer's (on screen and in real life), is unable to recognize Krisha (and, we must presume, Fairchild). Even so, the mother proceeds to offer her own thoughts about her daughter without quite realizing that the daughter is crouched down right in front of her. Those thoughts aren't flattering, although they're offered with a heavy dosage of sympathy and regret. Shults keeps himself, as Trey, in frame—out of focus but still visible behind Krisha. It's the first time Trey has any noticeable emotional reaction to the existence of his mother.
The point of bringing up the particular family dynamic that's somewhat reflected on screen is not to speculate on the family itself. It is raised, though, to offer a reason as to why all of the film's elements are so deeply felt and clearly communicated, even as we spend the first part of the film trying to determine who these people are and how they're connected.
The particulars don't matter as much as the atmosphere that Shults has orchestrated with the casting. The cousins are in their own world, watching and cheering for a football game in the background. Trey wanders rooms or sits in silence, clearly avoiding a conversation or confrontation with his mother that must occur. Krisha's brothers-in-law (Chris Doubek and Bill Wise), each in his own way, lighten the mood a bit. One, with whom Trey has lived since his mother left, can't figure out a computer, while the other makes morbid jokes before giving Krisha an unsolicited dose of reality.
Then there's Krisha. Shults' chief accomplishment with Krisha is the way he presents two distinct viewpoints, even while sticking to a subjective perspective. On the one hand, we can understand the family's trepidation about having Krisha around for this gathering, and on the other, we're invested in and sympathetic toward Krisha's increasing realization that she is, to one extent or another, unwanted here. She's the destructive antagonist in one sense and the wounded protagonist in the other. The film's conflict and tension are in that dichotomy, and its resolution is in the tragedy that such a contradiction cannot be resolved.
Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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