The deep and painful fissures that usually lie dormant during holiday gatherings erupt with remarkable intensity in Trey Edward Shults’ “Krisha.” It’s a micro-budgeted indie feature that packs a solid punch, all the more impressive because the material is so familiar.
We occasionally get the sense that we’re watching a young (age 26) director feel his oats – there’s a certain amount of “technique” on view – but it’s the emotions that count in this story of an aging black sheep visiting her family on Thanksgiving, after a long absence.
The title character (well played by Krisha Fairchild) is a graying woman in her 60s who drives a pickup truck and resembles an Earth Mother gone slightly to seed. She arrives at her younger sister’s house, crowded with friends and relatives, in a small Texas town. Everyone’s having a good time, and Krisha offers to cook the turkey.
This clearly won’t be a Norman Rockwell holiday as we watch Krisha open up a locked metal box and pop a pill from one of several bottles. But for the moment, all is well, as she holds an extended and (at least at the beginning) amusing conversation with a smart aleck relative (Bill Wise).
But she gets the cold shoulder from a young college student, who will play a larger role later. (The student is portrayed by the director, who has also cast members of his family in other roles.)
There are almost invasive closeups of Krisha that suggest much turmoil behind the gracious facade she’s keeping up for the family. Her presence is obviously an attempt to reconcile herself to people she has alienated, and the chances of her success come to seem increasingly doubtful.
Everything seems to be pointing to an explosion, and that’s what happens. There’s a missing bottle of wine and a great deal of shouting and angst. It may be as emotionally exhausting for the viewer as for the participants.
Shults is a penetrating observer, and hints at many old wounds that will be lanced in the course of a tight 83 minutes. Again, while he indulges in a few show-offy directorial sallies – note the variations in the film’s aspect ratio – but they seem tolerable given his accomplishments.
It’s hard to see “Krisha” and not think of the work of John Cassavetes (especially “A Woman Under the Influence”), with its raw and seemingly improvised attempts to penetrate to a core of emotional truth. Both directors ask us to do something painful, which is take an unblinking look at volatile sorts among us who can’t or won’t walk the line.
☆ ☆ ☆
Cast: Krisha Fairchild, Bill Wise, Olivia Grace Applegate, Bryan Casserly.
Director: Trey Edward Shults.
Running time: 83 minutes.
Rating: R (language, substance abuse and some sexual content).