“Krisha” is one of those movies that can be best described as emotionally pulverizing. It starts off with a close up of the title character’s face as the sound builds to a feverish crescendo, and that is enough to tell the audience this movie is going to be a psychological endurance test for the characters we see onscreen. It’s a powerful motion picture that is as emotionally cathartic as they come, and it’s one of the best movies of early 2016.
Krisha Fairchild stars as the Krisha of the movie’s title, a deeply troubled woman who is returning home to the family she abandoned years ago for a life of drug addiction and self-destruction. It’s Thanksgiving Day and everyone welcomes her back with open arms, prepared to forgive her for her trespasses, but right from the start there is a palpable tension in the air as everything seems a little off. While her family is happy to see Krisha, there are still unsure of whether or not she can be trusted. As for Krisha herself, we find that she is still struggling with her demons, and she may not make it through the night in one piece. She’s also cooking the Thanksgiving turkey, and the turkey is just a time bomb just waiting to go off.
It should be noted that the movie’s writer and director Trey Edward Shults based its story on a similar family situation he experienced when his cousin Nica came home for the holidays. She was in the throes of her own drug addiction which would end her life prematurely two months later. For Shults, making this movie was a way to confront this tragedy, and he cast many of his own family members who had been through the same situation as well. Heck, Shults even plays Krisha’s abandoned son Trey, so this movie could be considered one big therapy session.
But the one family member who stands out here the most is Shults’ aunt, Krisha Fairchild. Now Fairchild is not playing herself even though she shares the same name of her character, but that makes her performance all the more extraordinary as she plumps the depths of a drug addict struggling to prove to her son and her family that everything is okay with her now. As crazy as she gets in this movie, Fairchild still makes Krisha a sympathetic character who we cannot help but feel for. And when she puts on a red dress which looks a lot like the one Ellen Burstyn wore in “Requiem for a Dream,” she goes all out for a climax that is just shattering.
The rest of the cast does terrific work, and that especially goes for Bill Wise who plays Doyle, the family member who proves to be its biggest personality and its biggest asshole. Doyle sees right through Krisha and ends up telling her flat out, “You are an abandoner. You are heartbreak incarnate, lady.” And then there’s Robyn Fairchild who plays Krisha’s sister, the most stable of all the family members. When Robyn breaks down after a protracted argument with Krisha, it’s impossible not to feel her pain and emotional exhaustion as we have all known strong family members who eventually reach their breaking point after holding it together for so long.
“Krisha” is Shults’ first feature film, and it is an incredible debut made all the more amazing by the fact that he shot it all in just 8 days. He makes it looks like it was shot a lot longer and cost more than it did as he balances a lot of different elements here with a director’s masterful touch. Shults is also aided tremendously by the almost dreamlike cinematography by Drew Daniels and the abstract sounding music score by Brian McOmber which illustrates the increasing tension that’s just bubbling beneath the surface. This movie is an emotional powder keg just waiting to go off, and they never let the audience or the characters off easy.
There have been countless movies made over the years about drug addiction and of the effect it has on the family members of the addict, and “Krisha” certainly feels like one of the most effective. It also rightly reminds the viewer that an addict will only seek help when they want to stop. We can’t make them stop. We can only hope for the best and pray for the addict to see the light and make a conscious decision to seek help. Watching this movie makes you want to see Krisha succeed and put her past behind her, but when things begin falling apart for her we can’t look away. Deep down we would like to, but her suffering is all too real to ignore.
“Krisha” shook me in a way very few movies do these days, and it marks the arrival of a gifted feature film director named Trey Edward Shults. Now that we have seen what he can do with the smallest of budgets, it will be interesting to see where he goes from here. As for Krisha Fairchild, she is an actress whose work has been under the radar for years, and here she gives one of the biggest breakthrough performances the world of movies has seen in some time. All good things to those who wait.
Copyright Ben Kenber 2016