2016 Film Essays

The Insular Visions of ‘Krisha’


The most harmonious moment of Trey Edward Shults’ Krisha comes in a shattering juxtaposition with Nina Simone’s immortal “Just In Time”. For a few minutes, the Krisha (Krisha Fairchild) is able to slip into a spiritual stand-still and truly observe her own world as a voyeuristic phantom. As Simone’s voice curdles with the climactic “change me” refrain, Krisha is seeing this context through her own projected filter. Zooming in, though, it’s clear that Krisha’s redemption is just as fluid as her own cumulating pain. No matter how much she wishes the past could just dribble away, the best intentions won’t truly change anything at all.

Recently sober after years of implied destructive substance abuse, Krisha’s easily set off, meeting her own clan that she’s separated herself from for years. She’s so jittery in these moments, but above all else, she wants to be embraced, to be loved. Krisha’s search for redemption isn’t necessarily cinematically unique, although her best parallel may actually be Amy Jellicoe (Laura Dern) from HBO’s Enlightened — a person who wants so badly to atone for her sins, but can’t understand why she’s not given the opportunity, or rather why that opportunity isn’t linear.

But Krisha’s moment of reconciliation is happening. Strangers who’ve been a part of her life for decades are inviting her into their inner sanctum as the canted camera follows her in a moment of overwhelmed gratitude. Clear about her desires, Krisha only wants to be loved again, even as she’s damaged the foundations of these relationships. Medication isn’t a duty but her life-blood, a stabilizing force that’s settled her equilibrium as things spin further out of control.

For the first half of Krisha, the soundtrack’s sole pursuit seems to focus on consistently pushing Krisha’s character to her threshold. At first emerging with burbling synths, the soundtrack soon becomes a form of musique concrete; a collage that lends such a sense of breaking instability that the simple act of cutting vegetables has the same intensity of five finger fillet, and a harmless bout of arm wrestling is imbued with such distorted rhythms that it wouldn’t be surprising if both their arms split in two.

Chaos is part of the deal, though. This is her trial by fire, surrounded by every possible triggering context imaginable. The conversations are a microcosm of the actual tenor of the room. Shults offers neither Krisha’s character or the audience easy breathing room as he blocks the frame such that she literally needs to weave around obstacles to continue with her larger goals. The camera holds Krisha in a vise grip, mimicking the mediated panic of the environment.

Shults continually amplifies this sensation, moving from wide open spaces into the compartmentalized suffering of each of these characters. In terms of access, Krisha is almost comparable to found footage as the lead visually peeks around every corner into the interior lives of others and their daily struggles that exist independent of her own goals as a human being.

Reconnecting with these family members, it’s not the expected sunshine. Krisha’s brother-in-law is mordantly funny, making jibes about his hatred of dogs and selling his granddaughter, but they’re cloaking something very temperamental about the situation — something that’s only recognizable through Krisha’s unreliable view point. There’s darkness in the crevices of this family, whether it’s caused by her absence or the mere knowledge that this family could be splintered.

The walls start closing in, as pills stop becoming a duty and more of an essential vice. Krisha’s trying her damnedest to be deeply supportive and positive — a regular reformed guru — but that can’t replace a presence. As she talks to her emotionally withholding son, Trey (director Trey Edward Shults in a disorienting concession to reality), the boy can’t stand to look at her. And even as Krisha’s optimistically musing about a future to make up for the time, she’s still talking to him with the assumptions that she knows something deeper about him. Speaking about his college courses, Krisha’s believes that his interest in business management must just be a mask to pay the bills to fund a previous passion for filmmaking.

Asked about where she’s been for these years, Krisha can only manage to be vague: “I’ve been living a life in which I’ve been trying to become a better human being.” That’s a bold claim, and one that’s immediately picked at by people who can’t simply forget that she’s been gone for years.

Krisha is surrounded by martyrs who both deserve more credit and possess delusions about their own needs, as Doyle rebuffs in a heated conversation, “you are a broken winged bird that’s hit one too many windshields.” But who can blame her? Krisha may have lost the course, but all the women of the film want to do right by those they love. Krisha’s mother may barely recognize her, but time is painful and refuses to mend even those who make mistakes.

The self-destruction of Krisha is inevitable, but the fraying doesn’t feel agonizing. Alcohol is the skeleton key back into a coexistence of happiness and regret. Enlightenment isn’t false, but with each moment, it grows further and further away. This is her trial, and she’s destined to fail, even if it’s the closest the world came to making sense. She’s slurring her words and casting the first stones as her dysfunction becomes an episodic nightmare around her. It’s too late to force her way back to a seat at the table. She should have never tried to get closer.

Michael Snydel (@snydel) is a writer based in Chicago who has been obsessed with film and film reviews since he could read. For the first decade of his life, he could bizarrely tell you the rating of nearly film that came out. He now tries to devote his time to less pointless things. He writes regularly for The Film Stage and has written for Paste Magazine and The Dissolve (RIP).