Directed by Trey Edward Shults
Krisha is a blend of Terrence Malick, John Cassavetes and horror. It both celebrates and agonizes over the mundane, ordinary moments on a particular day, reflecting the natural beauty of a family in motion while focusing on a woman’s guilt and struggle with knowing what she’s lost, even as it’s right in front of her.
Keisha returns home to a large family for Thanksgiving after having been absent from their lives for years. We’re not told upfront how long she’s been gone or why, but it is quickly apparent how isolated from hew family she is. In one particular long take to begin the movie, Krisha wanders to the wrong house before finding the right one, and she is warmly greeted by the entire family before Trey, her biological son, enters the house and everyone falls silent for a moment. He embraces her as they do, but there’s something a little forced about the hug, and that tells us all we need to know.
The film then combines a series of occasionally improvised scenes that feel as though they’re straight out of a horror film. The score helps emphasize this idea that something is simply off, though we don’t know what, until Krisha’s brother-in-law spills the beans, calling her “evil incarnate.” His directness forces us to empathize with Krisha, even as we see just how far removed from this family she is, due to her own mistakes.
The family atmosphere, shown through long takes, choreographed movements and improvised dialogue is depicted as both inviting and isolating. If you’re in it, then it feels like a dance, one you’ve all rehearsed, but if you’re on the outside it feels like a storm swirling around you. It’s almost like the other characters are speaking another language as we struggle to make out the specifics of their conversation. These scenes feel like something out of a Robert Altman film, in which it’s never so much about what people say as much as how they sound. In these moments, language is the last important element of the story. It doesn’t matter if you can’t speak English because the body language and tone of voice says everything.
Krisha struggles to keep up with her family or even the camera which pans and swirls around the room while she remains stuck in one place, trying to prepare the turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.
In other moments of the film, the camera bounces around between little vignettes of the large family doing mostly unimportant things that set the tone more than propel the story forward. We spend time returning to the conversation between Krisha and her brother-in-law as she tries to explain why she’s been gone for so long without spilling the details. The conversation at first feels playful as they discuss somewhat taboo things or feelings that you can only really discuss with a close relative or friend, but later it pivots as he begins to verbally attack Krisha. The horror that’s teased through the film isn’t any kind of supernatural or conventional movie horror, instead it’s simply the risk that Krisha might break, and eventually she does.
In other vignettes we see the way the brothers arm wrestle or celebrate a touchdown on tv. We see the way Trey, Krisha’s son, helps his father (not biological) with a computer problem before they tell each other how much they love each other, in fashion. In some of these moments Krisha spies on the scene, hiding behind a corner, and in others she is not even around.
All of these mini-scenes work to make us feel how distant Krisha is from the heart of the family. It’s the experience of being in someone else’s house and witnessing a moment that you feel you are not meant to see. Sometimes that unspoken, effortless familiarity between a group of people can be intimidating if you don’t speak the same language.
Later in the night, when it all becomes too much, Krisha falls off the wagon. Sober for years, presumably, she chugs desperately from a bottle of wine, and soon after she drops the turkey while drunk. The family turns on her, though mostly through a withdrawn silence. While her brother-in-law is the only one who accuses her of drinking, everyone else shies away from the storm Krisha brings with her.
The fallout is brutal, and the horror becomes real, even though we have to accept that this is Krisha’s own fault. To watch someone like her cry alone upstairs while the rest of the family moves on with their lives downstairs is deeply disturbing, and it can only work if the performances work, which they most definitely do.
Pushed to her breaking point, having realizes that her family won’t welcome her back until she proves herself capable of holding it together (and even then only maybe welcoming her back), Krisha storms downstairs, yelling at her son to accept her. This is after her sister has already brought her upstairs, pleading for her to get better. Krisha is given a moment of recognition of the damage she’s caused, and even though it’s incredibly painful, part of us expects her to accept this and try to move on.
Instead she yells at her son and her family before attempting to kill herself and possibly eventually succeeding. As she downs the hard alcohol and an excess of pills, we see a montage of moments both from the movie and from the life of Krisha’s extended family. There are photos of her son as a baby as well as the new baby of one of her nieces. This is juxtaposed with shots of Krisha’s dementia-ridden elderly mother, and these shots when composed together, plus the incredible score, feel incredibly haunting. It begins to feel as though we have all lost something, like Krisha, even if we have everything currently in our grasp. This montage feels like something out of Terrence Malick film, and it makes family and life feel incredibly fleeting.
Krisha is a very challenging film to watch because it puts you through an emotional ringer. It’s worth the experience, but it’s painful. The ‘pain,’ however, isn’t a cheap emotion, created through manipulative techniques and exercises. Instead it’s a slow boil that builds and builds, bringing alongside it a feeling of intense dread. Directed Trey Edward Shults creates this though a series of long takes that both slow everything down and ramp up the tension in the film.
In the end this movie feels like one of the most horrifying movies of recent memory while also remaining grounded in reality. It’s a meditation of sorts on what it feels like to lose something.