With Trey Edward Stults’ “It Comes at Night” arriving in theaters I finally remembered that I received a screener for his debut feature “Krisha” just last November. Sadly, though I watched more than 300 films last year I was unable to make “Krisha” one of them. I simply ran out of time before the Critics’ Choice Awards nominations had to go out. It’s an excuse, but it’s what happened and now I am kicking myself. I wish I had seen this movie so much sooner than just this week.
“Krisha” begins on two separate long, unbroken takes that are equally unsettling and fascinating. Krisha, played by Krisha Fairchild, is the name of a long lost relative returning to a seemingly welcoming family but something about the long unbroken take of Krisha first attempting to locate the front door of the home she is visiting and the otherwise genial and poignant welcome she receives, left me feeling uneasy, especially when combined with the shorter yet still unbroken shot that begins the film. The very first scene is a horror movie shot of our main character against a deathly red background staring at the viewer with the rage of a villain. These two scenes combine to throw the audience into a dizzy spell that barely begins to lift once the film returns to a more conventional filmmaking style following the opening title card.
“Krisha” is unyielding in pushing audience buttons following its incredible opening scenes. The following scene finds Krisha in the bathroom unpacking her things and while the scene is conventionally shot and less jarring than the opening, director Trey Edward Shults does not let up an inch on the intrigue. Krisha carries with her a strong box with notes all over it that say “private” and “keep out.” Naturally, this only serves to make the box more interesting. The mysterious nature of the box deepens when we see that Krisha is so paranoid about people opening the box that she wears the key on a necklace.
Even after we find out what is in the box there is still more drama and fascination to be mined from the contents. I won’t spoil the contents, their importance as symbols comes into play later, and I will only say that my curiosity throughout the scene kept rising so quickly I felt a genuine rush. From one moment to the next in this thrilling film my mind was reeling and folks, I’ve only described the first 5 minutes of “Krisha.”
From here “Krisha” doesn’t so much unpack any long family history or dwell on any long simmering family squabbles but rather takes a tact that is unexpected for sure and wildly daring. This tightrope act of genre film-making places audience members in highly uncomfortable situations and while your mind seeks out the comforting twists of classic genre movies, “Krisha” remains defiantly unpredictable until its divisive ending which will either thrill you with its uniqueness or anger you for betraying your expectations.
The story behind the making of the film has a transgressive quality all its own. Writer-Director Trey Edward Shults cast himself in the role of Trey, Krisha’s estranged son, opposite star Krisha Fairchild who is Shults’ real life Aunt. The rawness of the familial exchanges as “Krisha” unfolds lends that fact a surreal quality that only serves this sometimes surreal and always unexpected narrative experiment. I mention those raw exchanges, but don’t be mistaken, “Krisha” isn’t about showy arguments, it is so much more than that.
Let’s talk about Krisha Fairchild, the star of this remarkable film. Fairchild is in nearly every minute of “Krisha” and the moments she is not onscreen are POV shots that ratchet the tension as we wonder what she’s thinking of what she’s witnessing. Part of the power comes from the way in which Trey Edward Shults tilts and twirls his camera around Fairchild seeking flattering and unflattering angles in equal measure. Much of Fairchild’s performance is in her face and eyes rather than dialogue and the shifts from poignant to chilling to achingly sad make for one of the most riveting performances of the past year.
The nature of my job means I see a lot of movies and during awards season I am forced to make tough choices of what I have time to watch amid my obligations to a 40 hour a week job in radio and my beloved obligation to watch as many screeners as I can. I am so sad that I didn’t place “Krisha” at the top of my awards season list of movies to watch. Had I seen “Krisha” in time for the Critics’ Choice Awards or my year end Top 10 list, my ballot and my Top 10 would have looked a little different.
I was stoked to see “It Comes at Night” based on the terrific trailer, my affection for star Joel Edgerton, and the fact that it comes from the glorious distributor A24. Now, however, my excitement for “It Comes at Night” is through the roof. If “It Comes at Night” is half as clever, inventive and disturbing as “Krisha” we are all in for one of hell of a movie.