Director Trey Edward Shults’ feature debut “Krisha” wears a lot of influences on its sleeve, whether it means to or not.
This volatile look at the title character’s fateful Thanksgiving family reunion, after years of addiction and isolation, embraces a dizzying assortment of stylings to underscore the gradual unraveling to come. Think the emotional fury of Cassavettes meeting the meandering lens of Terrence Malick.
Krisha (played by Shults’ own aunt, Krisha Fairchild) only shows one of her many wounds on the outside: A bandage where the other half of one of her fingers once was. Her small lockbox of pills and Post-It notes to keep track clues us in for the other, unseen afflictions.
The pained, always-distant presence of her son (played by Shults) is a lingering reminder of the damage that was once done and not yet repaired. The massive Texas home she’s come to for the holiday is full of family, yet none of them familiar.
Her losing struggle to maintain sobriety is punctuated by composer Brian McOmber’s woodpecker-like score, pinging away amid a cacophony of phone calls, rowdy young men watching football and tumbling tupperware in the kitchen grate on Krisha’s mental state.
Balancing out the escalating terror — “Krisha” is something of a horror film — is Krisha’s chumminess with brother-in-law Doyle (Bill Wise), whose disdain for his family’s many dogs offers much-needed levity: “I have a soft appreciation for euthanasia,” he puts it.
But Doyle’s embrace of Krisha is not without the same hard edge he has for the four-legged menaces, sparing no feelings in dubbing Krisha “heartbreak incarnate” for her past misdeeds.
“If you think you can just pop in and pop out of people’s lives like this, you are malinformed,” Doyle scolds his “abandoneer” in-law.
It seems natural that, with a cast mostly made of family members, Schults saturates the film with realness. But the flourishes he adds with spinning and tilting camera angles and the film’s startling book-end closeup shots of Krisha do precisely what they should: Take a portrait of hope and redemption and smash the frame and glass to bits, strewn amid the gravy boat and place settings.
Rated R. One hour, 23 minutes. Four stars out of five. Opens Friday at the Esquire Theatre in Denver.