‘Krisha’ deals with a very rocky homecoming

“Krisha” is very much a family affair — so much so that Houston writer/director Trey Edward Shults cast his aunt, Krisha Fairchild, in the starring role.

The Texas-shot film has had a long route to theatrical release, having won the narrative feature competition at South by Southwest in March 2015. From there, it was screened at the Critics Week sidebar at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. It’s finally arriving in Texas theaters this week.

The character of Krisha is an aging alcoholic who’s full of dread and foreboding but who’s going home for a family celebration. The press notes say that it’s Thanksgiving, but the movie never says what time of year it is. However, Thanksgiving doesn’t appear to be a good bet, since the crepe myrtles are blooming outside.

The rest of the family is concerned about Krisha’s return, wondering whether she’ll set off a full-scale disaster. At first, we don’t know the backstory, but it’s clear that Krisha is a mess.

As portrayed by Fairchild, however, Krisha earns our empathy. She’s clearly out of sync with the casual hijinks of this particular family’s life, and her efforts to fit in are sadly evocative of so many fish-out-of-water stories.

But this is no average tale about awkward homecomings. Fairchild is an extraordinary-yet-relatively-unknown actress. And Shults manages to let her character’s story come out with shocking clarity and maximum emotional impact.

Fairchild also played a role in getting the film made.

Shults, a lifelong film fan, was staying with her in Hawaii when Fairchild introduced him to Austin director Terrence Malick. At the time, Malick was working on his documentary “Voyage of Time,” and Fairchild helped get Shults a job as one of the film loaders.

The experience helped inspire Shults to make a short starring his aunt. The short went on to get recognition at the 2014 SXSW festival, and this led Shults to begin a Kickstarter campaign for the feature-length film.

Shults shot the movie in his mother’s home, and it took a little over a week. He raised money through a $15,000 Kickstarter drive, and he came to SXSW in 2015 with no publicist and no expectations. The film attracted the attention of publicist Adam Kersh, and Kersh started pitching it to various critics. After it went on to win the top prize in the narrative feature competition, Kersh urged Shults to enter it into Cannes, where it made the Critics Week sidebar despite being submitted late.

“It has been a surreal experience,” Shults said last year during an interview with the American-Statesman in Cannes, in part because that’s where A24 picked up the rights to distribute “Krisha.”

And as you’ll see, the return of Krisha to her hometown is quite surreal, too.

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