Thanksgiving, with its re-gathering of family, whether estranged or close-knit and full of foibles, is, frankly, as ripe for horror as Halloween. But Thanksgiving movies about families re-convened tend to revolve more around comic absurdity rather than violent nightmares, aside perhaps from Mark Waters’s “The House of Yes” where an on point Parker Posey thought herself Jackie Kennedy reincarnated. Still, that was predominantly a dark comedy, and Trey Edward Shults’s “Krisha”, his feature film debut, is a full descent into horror, something like a malevolently clever twist on the home invasion movie. Indeed, the home invader here, the titular Krisha (Krisha Fairchild), is willingly invited into the home of her sprawling family after an extended absences, where she proceeds to sabotage the holiday with a cover-your-eyes abrasiveness. Indeed, you almost want to cover your eyes during “Krisha’s” opening shot, which is of Krisha herself, glowering into the camera. It looks like a horror movie poster from the 80s.
Krisha shows up with a suitcase in tow, intending to stay for a few days, and an index finger she keeps wrapped up in gauze on account of some event that goes unmentioned, much like the hurt she caused her family goes unmentioned, merely alluded to in the uncomfortable behavior that permeates all her character’s encounters. That gauze, which unravels at inopportune moments, like a fairly grotesque instance as she stuffs the Thanksgiving turkey, also emblemizes the threadbare manner in which she keeps all that which ails her barely under her wraps. You see this too in the movie’s bravura opening sequence, an unbroken shot that follows her rolling her luggage through a community of McMansions, going to the wrong house first, stepping in mud, always threatening to erupt, but getting hold of herself by talking to herself, suggesting she is not really getting hold of herself at all. Inevitably she will completely lose hold of herself by film’s end, but Shults doesn’t so much string us along as convincingly, harshly chronicle Krisha’s desperate attempts to fend off this disintegration. Knowing the outcome only works to render its arrival that much more painful.
It’s a testament to Shults that he manages to introduce a sprawling family without really every introducing them at all. Instead he lets us get impressions of everyone through bits of conversation and behavior, like a kid loudly banging a rubber ball off the floor, or a father set to detonate every time technology foils him, or a husband (Bill Wise) who seems to consider his wife’s dogs he can’t stand as something like marital flagellation. And Shults moves his and camera in and out of this scrum, allowing their persistent noise to reverberate off the walls, a family gathering as swirling cacophony, underscored by Brian McComber’s deliberately staccato score, all of which gradually corrodes Krisha’s shoddily stitched together sanity. We see this in her repeated retreats to the bathroom where she harbors unnamed medicines and other unexplained secrets in a little pillbox. Clearly, however, these are nothing but temporary remedies, evoked in the way each time Krisha opens it, the more on the brink she seems.
Fairchild, who harbors a few acting credits, if nothing you will necessarily recall, strikingly evinces the sensation of being pitched right on the edge, as she fiercely clings to the cigarettes she smokes when in other people’s company like they are buoys keeping her afloat, talking to a family member about her “spiritual” journey in the sort of rising “I’m Being Serious” voice that lets you know she is trying to convince herself more than anyone else. Even more harrowing are the few interactions with her apparently disaffected son (Shults). Yearning for a private council with him while he’s at the table and engaged in conversation, she stands off to the side, waiting for a moment to interject, a moment that is as awkward as it is heartbreaking, a parent as interloper,
The backstory is so intentionally opaque that we don’t really know that Krisha is an alcoholic until she retreats to the bathroom with a bottle of wine and gulps it down, palpably transforming before our very eyes as the soundtrack gives way from McComber’s score to Nina Simone’s “Just In Time.” If Krisha senses her family trying to box her out even after inviting her back in, she will simply tear them all down, rendered in a nightmarish sequence when she takes the precious Thanksgiving bird down with her. The sequence is so heightened, yet Fairchild lays herself so operatically bare, it’s damn near unbearable. In the moments before she unleashes her wrath, she peers around the kitchen corner, like a frenzied Gena Rowlands in the jungle, her eyes practically on fire. It’s the most frightening movie image I saw all year.