Krisha proves there’s life in the American indy film industry
proves there’s life in the American indy film industry

March seems an odd time to release a film set on Thanksgiving Day, but Krisha (opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, March 25) is no routine holiday flick. It won’t play any better in the autumn than it will in the spring, and it’s less likely to put a damper on your next family reunion if you see it now – which you should.

Krisha (Krisha Fairchild) is an aging hippie whose bad luck and ill fortune is broadly suggested during the film’s opening scenes. Her flowing skirt caught in the door of a badly faded pick-up as she drives to Thanksgiving dinner, Krisha also suffers from a mysteriously abbreviated index finger clumsily wrapped in an ace bandage. Clearly, this is a woman with backstory.

It’s the first time our heroine has spent Turkey Day with her family in many years, and the reasons for her estrangement will be revealed over the course of Krisha’s brief but comfortable 81-minute running time. Writer-director Trey Edward Stults, however, is in no hurry to show his hand, and at first things seem guardedly friendly and only slightly tense.

Hosting the celebration is Krisha’s sister Robyn (Robyn Fairchild) and her dog-hating husband Doyle (Bill Wise, one of a handful of professional actors in the cast). There’s also an array of cousins, nieces, and nephews (most of whom we don’t get to know) in attendance, as well as senile but much beloved family matriarch Grandma (Billie Fairchild).

Krisha’s son Trey (director Stults — in real life, Fairchild’s nephew) is also present – and doing his best to ignore Mom, who apparently has played a less than positive role in his life. An attempt at reconciliation swiftly goes awry, and things spiral out of control as Krisha’s efforts to help with dinner preparations take a disastrous turn.

An expanded version of a short Stults made in 2014, this is the director’s first feature-length film (his previous feature experience consisted of interning for Terrence Malick on The Tree of Life). Filmed at his parent’s house on a micro-budget in just over a week, Krisha has been described as a ‘home movie’, and if that’s what it is, is surely the best looking one you’ll ever see. It even has sound!

Whether or not it truly fits the definition of home movie (and not being shot on 8mm or Super 8, I personally don’t think it does), there’s no doubt that Krisha is a family affair: of the film’s 14 credited cast members, four are Fairchilds, two are Frizzells, and the majority related to each other. It’s also semi-autobiographical, with inspiration provided by an unnamed family member’s struggles on an unhappy Christmas Day some years ago.

The winner of numerous prizes on the festival circuit (including the John Cassavetes Award at this year’s Independent Spirit Awards), Krisha suggests there’s life in the American indie film yet. There should also be the possibility of another gong in the film’s future: in a time when roles for older women continue to be few and far between, Krisha provides one good enough to earn its lead an Academy Award nomination. Here’s hoping.

Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. Read more from Big Screen Berkeley on Berkeleyside.

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Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as...