Krisha: Under Her Influence, by Ian Brill
Director Trey Edward Shults arrives with a powerful debut film in Krisha. Starring actual friends and family, and shot (at least at first) with a loose, improvised style, Shults appears to be on his way to becoming a John Cassavetes for the age of digital indie cinema.
The Cassavetes comparison is not only inspired by the film’s style but also its subject. The centers on Krisha (Krisha Fairchild, Shults’ real-life aunt) returning to her estranged family to celebrate Thanksgiving. With the talk of being sober, plus missing half of a finger, the film communicates just enough to know why Krisha has not seen her family for a while. The film follows her to her sister’s house in a long tracking shot, but once she enters, it switches back and forth to various scenes occurring during that day. Some are glimpses of everyday life, such as the men of the family arm wrestling. Others are deeply felt, especially Krisha discussing her life with her brother-in-law Doyle (Bill Wise). The film is set and shot in Texas, and Doyle’s Southern humor provides levity that masks the real pain behind Krisha’s return. But as the film goes on the masks drops, and we feel the chaotic mix of emotions Krisha is keeping inside her.
This is the Shults’ major triumph, creating a film that completely and successfully injects the audience into Kisha’s emotional state. Shults’ shooting and editing works brilliantly with Fairchild’s gut-punch of a performance. Many will compare the performance and storyline to Gena Rowlands’ work in A Woman Under the Influence. It’s an easy connection to make, and the comparison should only be taken as a compliment. Krisha is her own character, older than the one Rowalnds’ played. With her long white hair and classic movie star beauty, she appears to be a hippie “Earth mother” who may have been a femme fatale in a previous life. Her open face displays the many ways anxieties form during the situation she finds herself in.
The film changes, quite literally, when Krisha makes a regretful choice, spurred on by a reunion with her son (played by Shults himself). The aspect ratio changes from 1.85:1 to 2.35:1. The lightning and staging becomes dramatic. We’ve gone from a “home movie” feeling to a cinematic, dream-like state. This is not some film school experiment, though. The change occurs when Krisha starts drinking again, and this film’s transformation is a continuing example of how it binds us to her mindset.
The emotions of both Krisha and her family become increasingly painful. The film even changes aspect ratio yet again, to the near-claustrophobic 1.33:1. Fairchild’s performance is the energy that keeps it all connected. She’s a force that draws you in, despite the mistakes she makes.
Shults has created something special here. This story of how addiction affects both the addict and their family will hit home to those who have experience with this, and will be an eye-opening experience for those who don’t.