Krisha (2015, Trey Edward Shults)

Krisha is an eighty-minute film with a present action of maybe twelve hours. It’s about a family’s black sheep (Krisha Fairchild) coming to Thanksgiving after some time away. There’s no big exposition dump—it isn’t until the third act the film confirms the basic information the characters have all been dealing with—and for the first half or so, Krisha gets away with it. Right until the third act, when director, writer, and editor Shults brings on the drama, Krisha seems like it may end up somewhere special.

Or at least somewhere ambitious and not predictable.

After the third act, it’s clear the rest of the film was never going to add up, which brings it down in hindsight. It was all busy work to keep the audience distracted.

Of course, since the streaming service we watched Krisha on felt the need to put a “confirm” button under a warning about particularly adult content, I was watching the film with an impending sense of dread. Some of it is because Shults employs distorted angles, a noisy non-diegetic soundtrack, and a fragmented narrative. But also because it all seems like it’s building to something extraordinary. It’s not just going to be a Thanksgiving drama about this obnoxious privileged white family; for much of the runtime, when nothing’s going on except turkey preparation, you can just hear them talking about doing their own research on vaccines or maybe complaining about critical race theory.

When we finally find out what the movie’s all about, almost an hour in, it’s doesn’t derail the film. Shults could take it someplace. Only it’s not a character study of Krisha Fairchild; it’s about how shitty she is to her family, apparently. We get a sense of the hostility from Bill Wise, who tries bonding with Fairchild over how much he hates her sister (his wife) but still stays with her, and when Fairchild’s not receptive, he lashes out with some white male truth bombs.

The third act mainly falls apart because Robyn Fairchild—presumably Krisha’s real-life sister—isn’t good. And because Shults starts playing with the aspect ratio too much, he goes from 4:3 to 2.35:1 to 4:3 for sure, and maybe there’s some 16:9 in there. It’s distracting in the third act, particularly because Drew Daniels does a terrible job lighting it.

For a literal family affair, with the occasional professional actor (Wise and Chris Doubek, both of whom aren’t as good as the non-professionals), Krisha’s impressive. Shults’s editing is outstanding. Fairchild’s performance is pretty good until she becomes the film’s villain. Turns out we weren’t supposed to empathize with her coming into this passively hostile environment filled with bland white people—who make her do the entire Thanksgiving dinner herself while the men all do macho shit—but instead empathize with the family giving her another chance.

I mean, Krisha’s a movie where a wife (Olivia Grace Applegate) complains to a husband (Alex Dobrenko) about how she’d prefer to be enthusiastic about their sex life, and he’s the good guy for telling her to shut up and put out. The whole movie can basically be summed up as the “white, cishets aren’t okay.” Also, upper-middle-class people are energy vampires, which doesn’t seem to be Shults’s intent.

Though you also see someone prod grandma Billie Fairchild into performing from off-camera. She was suffering from Alzheimer’s in real life and apparently not entirely aware she was in a movie. It tracks with the film’s interesting cognitive dissonance about personal accountability, responsibility, and consent.

But, you know, for an indie white guy movie, it’s okay. Like sixty percent impressive low budget, fifteen percent too bland, fifteen percent bad. Fairchild’s performance would be outstanding if she weren’t a caricature, but Shults uses caricature to get away with the non-professional cast. But, sure, technically, it’s successful. Shults’s direction’s okay, and that cutting’s phenomenal. If only his writing weren’t manipulative and deceptive.

Though, who knows, since the entire thing ends up hinging on Robyn Fairchild’s performance, if she were better, things might work out.

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