After an indeterminate (but clearly lengthy) time away, black sheep Krisha visits her family for Thanksgiving. Her presence is clearly a point of some contention within the family, with her sister and brother-in-law welcoming her, while others give her the cold shoulder. She does her best to be a good guest, but her best is not good enough. As the events of the day devolve from a pleasant family holiday into chaos, we learn why she had been away so long, and what her return means for different people, including her.
Krisha is a thoughtfully told story about family, addiction, and forgiveness, and their breaking points. We are not given much detail about Krisha’s past, only that she has been struggling with drugs and alcohol for quite some time. She is also missing the tip of one finger, a detail which remains mysterious throughout the film. Early on, we learn that Trey (played by director Trey Edward Shults) is her son, and she fully intends to be a bigger part of his life from here on out. Trey’s responds to her sudden reappearance with sullen silence, setting him apart from the rest of the animated, energetic family. While his erstwhile mother claims to have “done the work” necessary for recovery, she clearly has a long way to go to earn her son’s forgiveness.
One of the most compelling elements of the film is the amount of action happening in this one house. Twentysomething brothers wrestle, dogs run around, middle-aged men practice karate, food is prepared, and Krisha is, in one memorable scene, right in the middle of it. As she stands in the kitchen conversing with her sisters, the camera pans back and forth, capturing both their conversation and the men watching football in the next room in one long and beautiful take. Later, when her sisters have gone to pick up their mother and Krisha is left in charge of the turkey, we see her pacing in circles around the kitchen, muttering to herself about the timer, while her nephew, Alex, sits at the counter watching. With each pass of the camera, the expression on Alex’s face grows more concerned. In his first feature film, Shults does a wonderful job guiding his actors and his camera, bringing the full energy of the family onto the screen.
Those actors, meanwhile, are not entirely acting. The majority of the family is an actual family, including Shults, his mother, grandmother, and his aunt Krisha. While the actress and her character share a name, the story is based on a combination of other family members who struggled with addiction. The deeply personal story helps lend realism to the acting of the mostly amateur cast. Shults also uses his mother’s house to great effect, with its open great room and windows from upstairs bedrooms overlooking the lower floor. The microscopic budget (funded in large part through Kickstarter) forced the filmmaker to get creative, and it usually worked.
As the pressure of the day builds, Krisha inevitably succumbs to it, washing down a few pills with a bottle of wine. When she drunkenly drops the turkey, her presence transforms from a dark cloud hanging over the day to a full-blown storm. The rest of the family banishes her to her bedroom, where she passes out. As she continues drinking, the alcohol transforms her memories until, in her mind, the entire family is against her.
As an intensely personal film from a first-time director, Krisha is a resounding success. Shults is steadier behind the camera than in front of it, but he doesn’t shy away from some risky shots that really pay off. Plus, directing your own mother can’t be easy.