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***** (out of five)

As the end of 2016 hurtles toward us like a US/China War, critics are making lists, generally of the top ten variety, but also lists of other “bests”: actor, director, cinematographer, new talent. I certainly am.

As I prepare them I realise that one film that will feature prominently has gone unreviewed in the pages of Film Mafia, since it never got released in Australia and I “missed it” until deep into the year. That film is Krisha, written and directed by Trey Edward Shults as his feature debut. It’s astonishing, and the only film I watched this year for a second time within a week.

Set in a roomy Texas house on Thanksgiving and taking place entirely within that day, Krisha is a serious, creepy, ambitious, moving, uncompromising and wholly successful cinematic work. Krisha, played by Krisha Fairchild, Shults’ aunt, returns to the bosom of her family – played almost entirely by members of Shults’ own family – for the holiday. The trouble is, under the welcoming surfaces, everything is cracked, and as the day progresses, the glass starts to splinter. It’s seemingly simple yet, in just 83 minutes, enormously, profoundly compelling and quite terrifying.

The film was shot in Shults’ parents’ home in nine days for around sixty thousand dollars, but it is fully realised as a piece of cinema, with bold, elaborate cinematography, astonishing creepy original music by Brian McOmber, and absolutely superb acting that deliberately combines pure naturalism with a heightened style as the film demands. It has won sixteen major awards including the Grand Jury and Audience Awards at South by Southwest and was nominated for the Critics Week Grand Prize and the Caméra d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Krisha is similar in tone to a horror movie, set within the structure of a “home for the holidays” family drama, and entirely unforgettable. I could not recommend it more.

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