Krisha, Trey Edward Shults’ feature film debut, showed up at last year’s Spirit Award screenings as well as this year’s Gotham’s Audience Awards. It’s a very low-budget affair shot at Shults’ parents home, with most of his family members and friends playing a fictional, dysfunctional family. The protagonist is also named Krisha, played by Shults’ aunt in real life. His actual mother plays Krisha’s sister and Shults himself plays Krisha’s son.
Incredibly, on Metacritic there are 27 positive reviews and only one mixed. Most of the critics were captivated by Shults’ aunt’s performance (her full name is Krisha Fairchild). When we first meet her, she hasn’t been back at her sister’s home in ten years, and initially ends up ringing the neighbour’s doorbell by mistake.
When Krisha finally wanders into the right house, we can tell right away there is something wrong with her by the reaction of the various family members, who appear to regard her with contempt. In many ways, Krisha is a black comedy (or farce), as Shults depicts the family members as passive-aggressive, doing their best to put on a good face towards an absentee relative who deep down is regarded (except by an almost senile grandmother) as a complete pariah.
Krisha earns the family’s contempt by her neurotic, self-destructive attitude, fuelled by pills that she keeps hidden in a small locked box marked “private.” It’s alcohol, however, that pushes Krisha over the edge, and the family’s passivity suddenly goes by the wayside when Krisha drops the Thanksgiving turkey on the kitchen floor (after continuously offering to help prepare the big bird, before it’s served).
Shults is more interested in depicting the humour of the family breakdown than making a case for the embattled Krisha, whose neuroticism is probably beyond any therapeutic assistance or repair. Thus all the sordid dysfunctional family members (including Krisha) live up to master critic Eric Bentley’s dictum: that in farce, one is “permitted the outrage, without the consequences.”
The problem with all this is that Shults tips his hand very early as to what’s going on. We “get” the idea just how neurotic Krisha is, and her exploits aren’t very surprising (or humorous) after a while. The climax, which features the one-note humor of an extremely neurotic family member returning from exile–who sets off the relatives who banished her years ago–is not only predictable but not very consequential, in terms of the kind of humour we can expect from a more seasoned farcical script.
I admire Shults for getting his project off the ground (especially by raising a nominal $14,000 via a Kickstarter campaign) but Krisha is nothing more than an exercise in “low stakes.” Next time, hopefully, the fledgling director will aim for higher heights with both well-developed characters and a more clever plot, featuring substantially more humorous situations.