When John Waters raves about a film, you take notice.
When John Waters raves about a film that you can stream instantly with Amazon Prime, you click play as soon as you can. The kind of film John Waters raves about is rarely the kind of film that you can watch without jumping through hoops.
Krisha is John Waters' top film of 2016. It's easy to see why once you start watching it. Writer/director/supporting player Trey Edward Shults brings together a cast largely comprised of his own family to tackle the awkwardness of the holiday season better than any film I've ever seen. Krisha is clearly a low budget film, but it is so polished with such wonderful performances from a cast of presumably non-actors that you'll be filled with renewed hope for what independent cinema can be.
Krisha is about Krisha (played by Shults' aunt Krisha Fairchild), an exile from her own family. She arrives late on Thanksgiving to make the turkey, reconnect with her estranged family, and win back the trust of the most important person in her life. Nothing goes right throughout the entire film, set up perfectly when Krisha can't even remember which house she's supposed to go to.
Krisha Fairchild glows onscreen. This is one of the most dynamic debut performances I've ever seen. Fairchild's face is expressive without ever going too broad for the screen. She's a sympathetic presence despite the many disturbing flaws that are revealed throughout the film. All it takes to hook you into the story is the opening shot of Krisha staring into the camera, fighting back tears. Fairchild and Shults clearly have a wonderful, trusting relationship to be able to push each other to such extremes for the sake of his debut feature.
Shults edits Krisha to perfection. The variety of shots captured in the relatively limited set of a house, a backyard, and the corner of the block is impressive. As Krisha becomes lost throughout Thanksgiving, the camera starts following the action in unsettling, less polished ways. Her relative sobriety and perception of the events and relationships shifts constantly between familiar and alien framing and focus in the edit. The house is constantly alive with action, similar to the layers of backstory and subplots in James Joyce's "The Dead," yet you never get distracted too long from the lurking, tragic, and menacing presence of Krisha.
The strangest element of a weird suspense/drama/comedy/character study film is Brian McOmber's original score. The music is wild. There's one scene punctuated with the sound of drumsticks dropping, being picked up, and used again as a major component of the score. The music seems so out of sync with what's going on because it's meant to be the audible manifestation of Krisha's fears, anxiety, and building rage. You know nothing good can come of this Thanksgiving celebration very early on when McOmber's scoring for the opening sequence is closer to a slasher film than a quirky indie drama. It's wild, inventive, and totally unpredictable scoring that adds so much depth and interest to some of the more common plot threads of the film.
I cannot recommend watching Krisha enough. When it's good, it's good; when it's bad, it's absolutely fascinating. And to be fair, it's never bad. The worst thing you can say about Krisha is that some scenes are a bit too familiar for what is otherwise such a fresh spin on this kind of family reunion drama. Even then, it's nice for something to feel familiar in a film that is so determined to push you away from the screen so you understand Krisha's struggle with her family.
Krisha is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.