Word is getting out that if Planes, Trains and Automobiles isn’t impressionistic or stressful enough for your family this Thanksgiving, there’s another option available. Trey Shults’s family drama by way of psychothriller attempts to portray Thanksgiving through the eyes of that outsider relative at the family gathering that few personally know but everybody knows by reputation. And that reputation ain’t good.
The film is cagey with the details but it’s clear that Krisha (Krisha Fairchild) has created some havoc in the past during an ongoing struggle with addiction. For the first time in ten years she arrives to the extended family’s Thanksgiving dinner. She has somewhere between two and three strikes against her with most of the family but she’s determined to make amends through the holiday; namely, she’s volunteered to cook the turkey. But from the first frame of the film – a closeup on Krisha’s panic-stricken face – it’s clear this second chance is on the razor edge of a nightmare.
Shults earned his stripes working for Terrance Malick at the dawn of his improvisational period and the influence is clear, particularly in the way Krisha handles time as an extension of memory, an inconstant variable that stretches, condenses or gets stuck in a loop as Krisha attempts to navigate the day. Adding to the discomfort is the impression that Shults and his collaborators are laying bare their own histories. Krisha shares a name with the actress playing her, for starters, and Shults himself plays her estranged son. Several of Shults’s family members fill in the cast and one scene involves his real grandmother, shot from a distance as if not to tip her off to the production.
The result is a horror film that makes the eyes go wide with the audacity and steadily tightens its grip on the windpipe until a tour-de-force climax. One doesn’t have to have done Krisha levels of damage in their life to recognize the anxiety of trying to make good on the holidays. There’s a terror in stuffing the turkey when the stakes are so high.
Krisha is available on Kanopy and Netflix.