“I thought we got rid of her”
The story behind Krisha is a fascinating one. Writer/director Trey Edward Shults was readying his feature debut when the acquisition of resources necessary to finish proved too difficult. So he took what he had already filmed and fashioned it into this short—one that ultimately won a Special Jury Award at SXSW before its critical acclaim got his mind and ambition back on track to place the full expanded version before cameras. It’s a personal story dealing with emotional demons (autobiographically and fictionally) he was facing, shot in his family’s home with a cast of relatives. While you may presume this to be a justification for shoddy production value, however, you’d be wrong. The look, tone, and style are immense, its authenticity a profoundly beautiful and scary result.
Its premise deals with the titular Krisha (Shult’s aunt Krisha Fairchild) returning to the family she left behind years previously. We can sense the chaos running wild within her head whether she’s staring into the camera frozen in horror or manically spinning around the kitchen in search of a non-existent timer before the pressure of cooking Thanksgiving dinner begins squeezing tighter. There’s this notion of her being the “other” for obvious reasons, her arrival unexpected in a way that conjures an anxiety towards when her self-destructive nature rears its head. We want to believe her sweetness is genuine, her love overdue. She’s diplomatic with her son (Shults) and overly gooey with her aged mother (Billie Fairchild), but her natural trepidation gives us hope for earned and appreciative reconciliation.
Shults frames most of these scenes in close-up so Krisha’s desire for warmth and the nervous yearning for escape by those she interacts with can be seen simultaneously. As more people arrive, voices and activity increase to throw the aesthetic into visual turmoil. We’re suddenly disoriented as to time passing, the sensory overload pushing Krisha to recuse herself to a bedroom in order to calm down. Then we watch her wake up. We see her down a bottle of wine and procure drugs we can only assume she brought to her sister’s home. The spiral of torment and darkness grows as quick cuts portraying erratic behavior are alternated with static shots of paranoia and uncertainty, the score a crescendo of loud noise ratcheting up tension and unease.
It’s a rapid-fire progression of sharp vignettes containing the family’s anger and rage mixed with a hazy stupor of uncontrollable urges on behalf of their guest. Relationships come into focus, Krisha’s failings are revealed, and we wonder where the breaking point lies between loving a lost soul and knowing that letting her go for good exposes the only healthy way forward. Shults isn’t providing us a tale of redemption. Krisha is in fact the exact opposite. He’s showing us what it feels like to be on the outside looking in at everything you cherish and the heartbreaking realization there may be no true path back to it. Fairchild’s devastating lead performance opens our eyes to addiction and depression’s unavoidably painful cycle, one that exposes the limits of love.