There’s doom in the air from the moment we first catch sight of sixtysomething Krisha (Krisha Fairchild) on a visit to her extended family in Texas for her first Thanksgiving with them in many years. They’re all smiles and hugs, but everyone’s trying so hard that we can guess there’s history here. Quite how much history becomes clear over the next 80 minutes in this compact yet utterly forensic drama, shot by first-time writer-director Trey Edward Shults in his parents’ house, casting his aunt, mum and grandma in key roles.
The tone starts out naturalistic, yet the heightened dialogue and screaming claustrophobia of a festive family gathering gone appallingly wrong eventually take it towards a woozy hysteria, recalling – like the somewhat handmade production does – John Cassavetes’s tortured, actor-driven films. Fairchild’s full-on central performance as Krisha certainly brings to mind Gena Rowlands’s singularly lived-in screen presence.
The extraordinary skill with which Shults’s camera prowls and probes the enclosed surroundings also channels Robert Altman in chamber-drama mode. Those are strong comparisons, but this unexpected and hugely impressive US indie debut is worthy of them. Are we watching the emergence of America’s next great filmmaker?