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At this point in time, most of us know what to expect from an “addiction movie”. In short: we expect redemption. And for a Thanksgiving movie opening on Easter weekend, one would think that resurrection, family-as-savior and rebirth would come into play. Well, forget anything and everything you expect, because Krisha takes all those expectations, and rules, and hope, and squashes it like a cinematic tornado that it actually is.

The movie opens with our eponymous (anti) heroine arriving to a family gathering for a Thanksgiving celebration. Her dress is poking out of her shut door car, her hair is a silver lion’s mane, and her face is the face of a woman who has seen it all (and then some). The family greets her with hugs and natural warmth, but also apprehension. Krisha has been out of their lives for decades, lost to addiction and demons. They are happy she is back in their lives and want to trust that she is truly better, but at the same time, they don’t know what lies in store, and the tension is palpable. That first scene could be a set-up for a family drama, or a truly terrifying psychological horror. The movie that follows is both.

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Krisha sets out to make the turkey. A task so pivotal for the success for the evening, so stressful in many way, and yet it is clearly important to her to prove she is capable of it. And over the next couple of hours, that turkey becomes a symbol of all that is lost and needs to be regained, the connection between the outside world (the family hanging out, the cousins playing games, the gorgeous weather of a Texas Thanksgiving) and the inside of the house, and Krisha’s mindframe as well (her tearing apart the kitchen, looking for tools, staring herself down in the mirror, the balance of it all hanging by a thread). Director Trey Shults (born in 1988 and making a confident run for the “new Cassavetes” title here) handles this delicate, precarious, explosive energy perfectly. He whirls the cameras around, then makes it stand still, just looking at Krisha’s face, the final result both deeply human and deeply surreal, with a on-edge score fueling this cinematic fire.

A movie like this depends deeply on its cast, and the cast here, led by Krisha Fairchild, is not only good, it is extraordinary. Fairchild has mostly done voiceover work, and here steals every scene she is in, which is all of them. While the wild abandon scenes are the obvious showcases, it is those moments of perfect stillness, where Shults stares into her eyes (her soul?) that truly stay with you. If this film was being shown in October or November, and Meryl Streep played the lead, it would be both a weaker performance (and we DO love Meryl, don’t get us wrong) AND a shoe-in for every award come award season. The rest of the characters of the screen match Fairchild stare-for-stare. What makes them EXTRA extraordinary is learning that all of these people are actually related, and members of Shults’ family (he himself plays one of the more cautious members in terms of enthusiasm over Krisha’s return), most of whom have never acted professionally before, and all of whom have candidly spoken about the film being inspired by their own experiences with an addict in their family.

This noviceness to the screen lends a certain trueness to the proceedings that watching a Hollywood cast could simply not deliver. When Shults’ character tells Krisha “You are heartbreak incarnate, you are a leaver” you FEEL it. The only question is whether you WANT TO feel it.

So, a fair warning: Krisha is a movie that deserves to be seen and celebrated, but also a movie to be SURVIVED. It should come with one of those (emotional) rollercoaster disclaimers in front: You must be this strong to take this ride.

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