WAVES (2019)

November 29, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. Whether in sports or music or movies, watching talent blossom and grow is wondrous. For movie lovers, this describes young filmmaker Trey Edward Shults, whose first feature film KRISHA really grabbed me at a film festival in 2016. His follow-up was the critically acclaimed IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017), and now with only his third film, Mr. Shults has delivered an even more ambitious story with wide-reaching impact, yet he remains true to his intimate and personal approach. In fact, with WAVES, he basically delivers two brilliant films in one.

A terrific opening credits sequence takes us inside the life of a teenager. There is constant motion, laughter, the longing for independence, and signs of responsibility and structure. Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr, LUCE, 2019) is a high school student, talented athlete, pianist, son, brother, and boyfriend. He’s living an upper-middle class life in a beautiful home with his dad (a powerhouse Sterling K Brown), stepmom (Renee Elise Goldsberry), and younger sister Emily (breakout star Taylor Russell). His dad owns a construction company, and is tough and demanding as a parent, incessantly pushing his son to do and be more. His fatherly advice comes in the form of telling Tyler that black men have to work harder than white ones … never stopping to give praise or affection. He’s the type of father who challenges his son to arm wrestle while in a restaurant and critiques his wrestling match victory by telling him the lesser opponent should have been dispatched much quicker. The pressure is relentless, though offered with the best intentions … a college scholarship and a successful life.

Tyler’s stepmom is loving and supportive, and his sister Emily is very sweet and quiet, living in the shadows of big brother. Tyler and his girlfriend Alexis (Alexa Demie) seem to have a good relationship and Tyler appears to be dealing with the pressures. But then, as is common with life at this age, things go sideways quickly. A shoulder injury, self-medication, and Alexis’ late period bring this ideal world crashing down on Tyler. Just when it seems things can’t get worse, they do.

Shults’ film is really two love stories separated by a tragic line. Whereas the first half belongs to Tyler, the second half is owned by his sister Emily. Dealing with a situation and emotions that should be beyond her maturity level, Emily proves how strong she is, and how the heart can always respond to compassion and caring. She meets one of Tyler’s ex-teammates Luke (yet another brilliant Lucas Hedges performance). Luke is socially clumsy and 180 degrees from being a smooth-talker, but he’s smitten with Emily and offers her a lovely, if unlikely, companionship. First love is almost always awkward and watching these two navigate is quite charming and heart-warming. A road trip leads to bonding and a better understanding of each other.

As the film shifts in focus and tone, characters are pushed to emotional limits. The film offers snapshots of moments without disturbing the flow or Shults’ commitment to rich texture. The photography from cinematographer Drew Daniels is creative and varied, and adds much to the presentation. Music is also vital here. The score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross adds the perfect touch, and the soundtrack contrasts the tastes of today’s generation with what the parents relate to (Dinah Washington’s “What a Difference a Day Makes”), even forming a surprising connection at one point. For other fans of Shults’ film KRISHA, you will enjoy a quick scene with Krisha Fairchild as a high school teacher.

Proms, pregnancy, parties, pills, and parents are all common topics for films dealing with teens, but this one digs deeper than most. It’s based in south Florida and is quite the stylish and heartfelt drama, slicing open the traits that make us human. A lifetime of good decisions builds a foundation, and one or two bad choices can topple all the good ones. When Tyler and his teammates are pumping up before a match with chants of “I cannot be taken down!”, we all know that life can absolutely take you down. Tyler learns this lesson in the harshest of ways, while his sister Emily deals with the aftermath. Themes of acceptance and forgiveness give this the feeling of the work of a much more experienced filmmaker, but evidently Trey Edward Shults is just this talented.

watch the trailer:


KRISHA (2016)

April 3, 2016

krisha Greetings again from the darkness. If we need a poster child for independent film, perhaps this little gem from writer/director Trey Edward Shults should be the leading candidate. The film is daring and raw and proves that even a familiar theme can be interesting if the creative forces are allowed to do what they do best. And on top of that … it was filmed in 9 days with no “stars” and almost no money.

The extended opening shot is a close up of only a woman’s face. Her eyes are expressive and her lip begins to quiver. Her look could be described as unnerved, and with the ominous music playing, our mind leads us to believe we are headed towards a horror film. Oh, how right … and wrong … that initial impression proves to be.

That woman is Krisha (played by Krisha Fairchild), a sixty-something year old who is joining her family for Thanksgiving dinner – after a 10 year absence. Of course, there are no shortage of family holiday dinner disaster movies, but most of the time they are either slapstick comedy or so stagey that the frustration never strikes a chord. Not so with this one.

Tension is palpable in every scene. It’s as if everyone is waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop. Krisha is a trainwreck as a mother, sister and person. She is an alcoholic and drug addict, though she proclaims herself healed. It’s pretty obvious to everyone (except herself) that her best intentions are not firmly planted in reality … and the inevitable is only a matter of time. Old wounds are re-opened (though they were probably never closed), and a simple conversation on the patio or checking the timer for the baking turkey become near catastrophes.

Mr. Shults has economically and effectively cast many of his own family members, and filmed in his mother’s home outside of Houston. Krisha is his real life Aunt, and Robyn (who plays Krisha’s emotionally devastated sister) is the director’s mother. This is a story that works because of the realness of each moment. It feels like family members unloading on each other rather than two actors reciting lines. Krisha’s swig of wine in the bathroom provides a moment of relief for both her and the viewer. Having been called “heartbreak incarnate” and an “abandoneer” … we even sympathize with her instinct to retreat to the bottle, though it’s with dread and misery.

Director Shults displays promise as a director who can capture a personal moment, no matter how awkward or painful. Krisha Fairchild has a Gena Rowlands on screen presence (very high praise) that delivers a touch of grounded realism to her words and actions. As a lover of independent films, here’s hoping we see more from them both in the very near future.

watch the trailer: