But then...aren't they all?
Krisha of Habit
The Little Home-Movie That Could...
Family gatherings have been the launching point for all sorts of drama and comedy in the arts. They're such a rich source of conflict with good intentions soured by bad karma. Along with that are the family rituals culminating in "the family meal" where everyone tries to "out-Rockwell" Rockwell. But in the meantime, there's a lot of down-time where one can get into trouble, the past simmering as much as the bird in the oven.
Krisha (Krisha Fairchild) harrumphs out of her rental and stomps to her sister's house, muttering the entire way, her rolling carry-on trailing behind like so much baggage. It's been awhile since she's been there, enough that that she first goes to the wrong house, then walks to the right one where she gets herself together at the stoop, puts on her "social" face before the door opens, then lights up when she's greeted, the mask looking genuine and natural.
She goes in and meets and greets, the voices high and welcoming, the hugs varied in intensity from crushing to fragile, and the chaos apparent. The household is scattered and busy, football's on and pets are astray as everybody busies themselves and occupies their time and space.
But, Krisha has an agenda. Estranged from her family, battling addiction, she's been away for years, set in her own space, finding her head. She has fences to mend—especially, critically, with her son (director Trey Edward Shults)—and binding ties that have become frayed in her absence.
That's the intent, anyway. But enough bridges have been burned in her wake that it's going to be slow-going. When she can finally have a heart-to-heart with her son, he listens petulantly, passive-aggressively. She's dying inside, really wanting to re-connect with him, but there's a wall of resentment that she's stepped out of his life. A brother-in-law (Bill Wise, the only other working actor besides Fairchild in the cast) is argumentative and has a tendency to poke raw places, which Krisha deflects as if she were hard-as-nails. She isn't. Even Teflon is temporary.
Her toughest critic stares at her in the mirror. She primps and prepares and whispers under her breath, her travelling bag of pills and an emergency bottle of booze nearby. As she paces back and forth—at one point, Shults has her compulsively circling a kitchen island in obsessively increasing orbits—the camera hovers as close as guilt, creating a building tension, which you know, deep down in your gut, is going to break. How and when is the question.
In the overview, this may seem like "Lifetime" material, but the brilliant thing about Krisha is the way Shults has conceived and shot it. It's doesn't feel like a family drama; it's done like a horror movie (I was half-way tempted to post this before Hallowe'en). The movie veers between crowded scenes of jangling activity and Krisha's isolation, creating a clear demarcation of tension between the two sides: Krisha and everybody else. She's the outsider in the family, given the benefit of the always-looming doubt. The unknown, the one being watched. We feel the palpable unease, even if candy-coated with sweetness. At any time, from the family's point of view, she might cross the line, and that line shifts depending on the family-member.
We feel the pressure because Shults always provides Krisha's point-of-view. No matter how normal the family may be, they're a challenge from this perspective—just as she is from theirs. That deep-seated antagonism and sense of dread is what differentiates Krisha from any other domestic drama not involving a hatchet. Krisha is not a monster or a psychopath, far from it, but the reactions to her are muted versions of dread and horror—family-style, with the implied normalcy. And Shults book-ends the film with the same unforgivingly naked straight-on slow zoom her face, as it tries vainly to keep composed and fails, crumbling. She is out mirror into the fragility of our souls.
Krisha was shot over 7 days, with a minimal budget and a cast consisting primarily of family members—and yet, you never catch anybody acting or seeming unnatural or stilted in their performance. The film was released to the film festival circuit where it would consistently be noticed and nominated for top honors, winning the Audience and Grand Jury Awards, then went to Cannes. Shults has garnered his share of nominations, and, suddenly, people noticed Krisha Fairchild, for her raw-nerve performance and ability to carry an entire movie on her shoulders. It is amazing work and stays with you long after you stumble out of the theater, wrecked.