Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A24 A-to-Z: #31. "Krisha" (2016)

Scene from Krisha
In case you didn't know, A24 is one of the great purveyors of modern cinema. Since 2013, the studio has found a way to innovate independent cinema by turning each release into an event. As a result, A24 A-to-Z will be an ongoing series that looks at every release from the studio by analyzing its production history, release, criticisms, and any awards attention that it might've received. Join me on a quest to explore the modern heroes of cinema by exploring every hit and miss that comes with that magnificent logo. They may not all be great, but they more than make A24 what it is and what it will hopefully continue to be for ears to come.

Released: March 18, 2016 
Release Number: 31
Directed By: Trey Edward Shultz
Starring: Krisha Fairchild, Alex Dobrenko, Robyn Fairchild
Plot: Krisha returns for Thanksgiving dinner after ten years away from her family, but past demons threaten to ruin the festivities.

The movies of A24 tend to have one thing in common: they're all independent movies made with some form of innovation. Yet director Trey Edward Schultz's debut Krisha still felt different. It wasn't just a film made on the cheap, it was a drama about family and alcoholism as focused on a family played predominantly by Schultz's relatives. There was a realism to everything that added a haunting tone and started a promising career for the director. It may have been a modest success at the box office, but it produced a film that struck a nerve and also proved that A24's brand wasn't just about weird movies from big stars. It was about getting the best performance out of anyone, including a certain actress that wasn't aware that she was in a movie.

The story begins with Schultz's own family, specifically a relative who battled alcoholism all of her life. She eventually suffered a relapse that caused conflict at a family get together, leaving her to unfortunately die not long after. Schultz felt personally connected to the story and attempted to make it using his own family. The first attempt was recorded over the course of a week, which Schultz suggests was the worst week of his life. He was panicking the entire time and the production quickly fell apart. He was eventually convinced to take the footage, which he felt wasn't salvageable, and turn it into a short film. This first attempt lead to something resembling the promise of the Krisha of 2016. More than anything, it gave the director hope to take another attempt at this personal story, which meant a lot to him.

Krisha was named for lead actress Krisha Fairchild, who wasn't a professional actor but came from a family full of them. Since Fairchild shared Schultz's connection to the alcoholic relative and felt it was easy to get into character, but hard to do it justice. The rest of the cast mixed in real actors, but were predominantly family members who used their original names. This was because of Schultz's grandma, who had Alzheimer's Disease and largely didn't know she was in her grandson's movie. To use fake names would cause her performance to seem strained, and thus lead to a decision that improved the film. He claims that his grandma would've been proud to know that she was in a film that played at Cannes, as she was supportive of his film career. To keep it familial, it was shot at Schultz's parents' house.

Based on the short, Krisha launched a Kickstarter to create the film. Its $10,000 goal ended at $14,260 with 64 backers. It was filmed between August 2 and August 10,2014 over nine days. The filming went a lot more smoothly than Schultz's first attempt. Fairchild got into character by thinking of the alcoholic relative. She wasn't a drinker, but she would place alcohol on her lips to get a sense of the character. The rest of the cast was given a loose script, which was reported to be 30% improvised. As Schultz would film other scenes, various other characters would be preparing parts in other rooms. The set was festive, usually getting family style dinners. The hardest part was the scenes of conflict between relatives. There was a certain love that they all shared that made it difficult to get into character.

Upon the film's completion, it made its debut at South by Southwest (SXSW) where it received high praise. Its story of families dealing with alcoholism lead many fans to talk to Fairchild about their personal experiencing, making Schultz believe that the film could have a strong impact on damaged families. Schultz considered it therapeutic and became glad to see it be selected for a screening at Cannes. Shortly after, A24 not only bought the film but signed Schultz to a two picture deal. For a film with a minimal budget and no big stars, it was a big deal that would create one of the studio's bigger surprises critically. It received a limited release where it grossed $148,222. For Schultz, it was a big success that marked a significant change in a career previously defined by a botched production.

Not only was it one of A24's oddest releases yet, it was also one of their most critically acclaimed in the four years of their existence. On critics aggregate website Rottem Tomatoes, the film received a 97% rating. Stephanie Zacharek of Time Magazine shared the general sentiments when writing that "Fairchild's performance is key to the movie: Krisha is witty and chatty one moment, shut down like a deserted fairground the next. We see dazzling warmth in her eyes but also the terror of total system failure." Nigel Andrews of Financial Times also found Schultz's debut a promising start to a career with "If this isn't the first work of a major filmmaker I'll eat my review. And I'll film it for you on YouTube." Of the two negative reviews on the website James Lattimer wrote that "It rams home the main character's relentless downward spiral though an incessant parade of grandstanding stylistic flourishes." The consensus came somewhere in the middle, but was predominantly positive.

For a studio that loved to surprise, Krisha was a pleasant one from its scale to its performances. It was a true indie film that helped to launch a promising career. In fact, Schultz's next film, It Comes at Night, promised to be bigger while still dealing with the family dynamics. But that's off in the future. For now, the studio returns to the weird world of modern Nazi culture with a film that was gleefully nihilistic, violent, and featured a performance by an actor gone too soon. It was a creative triumph that proved the studio could make a late summer hit. It was a film where punk rockers fought Nazis, and Green Room proved to be one of their most exciting films, possibly ever. 

Up Next: Green Room (2016)

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