3 out of 5

Directed by: Trey Edward Shults

What exactly is the definition between a short and a feature?  I mean, I’m sure it’s defined somewhere, and presumably somewhere online I can reference at my leisure.  But whether it’s due to rule-based limitations or maybe some historical set of assumptions (i.e. “I can’t call this a full-length film until…”), there seems to be the need to reach somewhere over the 70 minute mark – and much more often it’s 90 minutes – to call your work a movie.

I’m a firm believer in working for your format.  This means things can be adapted – such as a short film to a feature length, as was the case with Trey Edward Shults’ Krisha, from his own short of the same name – but then it’s a matter of determining what was specifically accomplished in one version that wouldn’t work in another, and vice versa.  Make both takes definitive.  This rhetoric certainly gets complicated if you always intended for one thing to be another, or maybe a studio says “do this and we’ll fund your next project,” and who wouldn’t take that deal?

Not that those arrangements excuse the (in my opinion) necessity of my original statement.  After all, some of us – me – haven’t experienced the source material, so at about forty minutes into Krisha, when I feel like I get it but see there’s still forty minutes left, I’m at a loss to connect with the outright support for the movie.

However, I’m not at a loss to praise Shults’ skills.  As the Ebert review points out, this film is – initially – structurally akin to most addict/rehab flicks: Krisha, whom we can tell is all sorts of off, shows up for her extended-extended-extended family’s Thanksgiving, and soon enough ugly truths rear their heads and the holiday is ruined.  Which, in traditional works, would give birth to some slight turn toward hope, if not outright happiness.  But that’s not Shults’ game; nor is it necessarily to he destructive, though.  Krisha is a very real example of the strain a constant addict is upon the ones who are obligated to emotionally care for them, and the film reigns this in and lets it percolate, simmer, and boil, more like a thriller or horror flick than a drama.  This aspect – which has been remarked upon plenty – is mesmerizing for, I should say, the majority of the film.  The way Krisha’s behavior hovers on that goofy aunt borderline sets us off-kilter, almost expecting comedy if not for the tense as Hell rush of the score (a maniac, jazzy ongoing tremor from Brian McOmber) and the way Shults blends it with fade-in, fade-out dialogue and a zanily swirling camera eye.  You feel Krisha’s desperation, trying to hold it together; at the same time, you are complicit with her family in waiting for a shoe to drop.

And it does, but it sorta has from the start of the film.  While the exact nature of some of Krisha’s problems – and the ugly side of some of her fellow family members – only comes out along the way, there’s no attempt to hide that she’s some kind of outcast, cautiously accepted back into the familial fold.

The actors, drawn from the director’s family, makes this very true to life.  Krisha is astonishly effective in the role.  But in both cases, the realness of it curtails some filmic distilling we’re used to: Conversations repeat and drift out of earshot, and when things get emotional, words are mumbled ir spoken through tears.  The emotions are crystal clear, but its almost a mumblecore approach, which enhances Krisha’s encroaching delirium  but, as with the overall flow of the film, doesn’t result in anything more.

Krisha is a pretty devastating experience, willing to forego a happy ending for a dedicated study of a particularly destructive personality type.  While it is of a set vision in construction, and wields its emotions very effectively throughout, there’s not so much a story arc that demands one view the full 90 minutes – you absolutely get the full effect by halfway in – unless you want to experience those exact family dinners when so-and-so spends the night embarrassing themselves and others.