Trey Edward Shults talks "Krisha" and "It Comes at Night" [Interview]

I spoke to Trey Edward Shults for The Playlist. The article can be found HERE.

Some of you may have missed out on 2016’s hidden masterpiece, Trey Edward Schults’ “Krisha.” However, there is a vocal fanbase behind the film and many are starting to see Shults as one of the most talented young indie filmmakers to come around in ages. “Krisha” was a movie that defied standard film experiences, feels way ahead of its time, and could prove to be, in the forseeable future, a pivotal moment in film history. A scathing, Kubrick-ian vision of a family reunion from hell, “Krisha” not only turned out to be a miracle for the work of art that it was, but it also felt damn near miraculous to have such an intimate and independently financed film, shot in nine days with a cast consisting mostly of Schults’ family, existing in the current cinematic zeitgeist.

Shults’ follow-up was much anticipated and finds the director shifting gears. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, where an unknown entity is killing off humanity, “It Comes at Night” tells the story of a man (Joel Edgerton) who will protect his wife (Carmen Ejogo) and son (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) at any cost. The bolted, secure, but isolated home which they share together along with, in a possible nod to Kubrick, their dog Stanley, is shaken up when a desperate young family shows up, seeking refuge from the pandemic. What comes next is the definition of psychological terror as Shults slowly creeps us, frame by frame, into his slow-burning web of dreadful horrors. It’s a mindbender that slowly reveals itself right up until its final, devastating frame. The film boasts a top-notch cast with Riley Keough and Christopher Abbott rounding out the cast, but the real revelation is Kelvin Harrison Jr, as Travis, the married couple’s 17 year-old son, whose expressive eyes can tell a story all by itself. It’s an instinctive, sensitively rendered performance filled with the subtlest of physical details. He’s the eyes and ears to which we see this horrifying tale unfold.

Shults’ incredible filmmaking prowess in “Krisha” continues with this film. With “It Comes at Night” he now has the chance to present his art to a wide mainstream audience, many of which will be tempted to discover “Krisha” for the very first time. Cinephiles should be excited that there are filmmakers out there like Shults, shaking up the medium with an untamed and unique cinematic vision. I spoke to the 28 year-old writer-director about his latest movie and the last two years which have whipped by like a whirlwind.

I’m sure you heard, John Waters put “Krisha” as his number one movie of 2016.
It was incredible, mind-boggling. “Krisha” was nuts. So many fantasies came true with that film. In life you dream about stuff, a lot of times it never goes the way you do, but then so many instances happened with that movie that felt really surreal and humbling.

“It Comes at Night” is getting a much wider released, at least compared to the rollout “Krisha” received. How do you feel about that contrast?
It’s weird. I just finished the movie weeks ago, so I haven’t slowed down since we shot it in August. I wrote this movie around the same time I wrote “Krisha,” they’re all kind of intermixed. So, I have no perspective, but I’m looking forward to the release being over with so that I can process what’s going on. I’m looking forward to having some time to decompress.

It would make sense that you wrote “Krisha” and “It Comes at Night” back to back, because they both have to do with families in desperate times. 
Yeah, personally to me they’re so inter-meshed as companion pieces. They do go about things in very different ways, but they have commonalities as well. They were both inspired by my relationship with my Dad. They’re both about a kind of confrontation and looking at things that we don’t want to look at, if that makes any sense.

I read you made this latest movie right after the passing of your father. 
It comes from a deeply personal place. The opening scene is literally what I was saying to my Dad on his deathbed. “Krisha” was different, it came out of me, but it was inspired by a specific incident when my cousin relapsed at a family reunion. “It Comes at Night” was also inspired by an incident, one of the most traumatizing things in my life, being with my Dad. Every day of my life, after that day with my father, has been different. I think about it all the time. So, it started with that, which we see in the opening scene, but everything after that is obviously a fictional narrative. There’s going to be various different interpretations and responses, but for me, it’s going to be different because when I see it I think of where my head was at the time I wrote it, the grief I was in, what I was processing and confronting. It’s very tough for me to watch the movie or have a healthy relationship with it.
How many times have you seen it?
Oh, just from editing, I’d say hundreds, but I watched the movie the other night, for the first time, all the way through, in a theater packed with people which included my mom, my girlfriend, and it was a miserable experience for me. It was weird. The one thing I can say is I can appreciate all the work my collaborators, my actors, my DP and my staff did on the film.
You had 9 days shooting “Krisha,” how many days was “It Comes at Night”?
26. Way more days!
It’s still not enough for most filmmakers I talk to.
Yeah, well you know, when is it ever enough? I feel like I’ve never talked to any filmmaker who said, “Everything was perfect, I had everything I needed.” With “It Comes at Night” we were working with people that had a lot more experience, that were used to the conditions. To me it felt slow, compared to  “Krisha.” We had a crew of five people on that film, we filmed it at my parents house. With this movie we had to test the lighting, there were boards on the windows, a bigger crew, much more professionalism.
Some of the shots you came up with in both “Krisha” and ” It Comes at Night” are masterfully executed. Did you go to film school?
Thanks. I did not. I have a weird history. I basically dropped out of college, I lucked out and got into a Terrence Malick movie as a film loader, and then went back home to live with my Dad. I was trying to work on any film stuff on the side, if I could, but I dropped out of school and gave myself my own film school. I was obsessed over movies and living in this attic for months. I was making these personal short movies, I just pushed and pushed until I made that first official short film which felt more in vein with the filmmaker that I wanted to be. I’m still finding my voice, but with the “Krisha” short film, it felt like a real beginning.
You worked with Terrence Malick?
It was nutty. The first thing I worked on was the IMAX movie. It was me and four other guys working in Hawaii. We didn’t know what it was about. We were traveling the world, it was just so surreal. What we were shooting for was the film “Voyage of Time,” which I still haven’t seen, but so much of that footage was used for “Tree of Life” and, specifically, the “Birth of the Universe” sequence. I also interned at Terry [Malick’s] place for a bit, I had ideas of what “Tree of Life” was going to be like, but to experience it for the first time and see this family put up against the history of the universe, with the shots that I was there for, was one of the most humbling and mind-blowing experiences. It was really beautiful.
It’s a masterpiece.
It’s one of my very favorite films.
His influence is vast and only growing. What do you make of all the filmmakers today who are trying to use his style to tell their own stories?
Only Terry can do Terry.
What’s next for you?
I just need time to decompress and process this whole experience. In my spare time I am trying to write and kickstart this new project I’m working on. It’s new and different, but hopefully still seems like me. It’s more ambitious than anything I’ve done before. It has to do with these kids in high school and this family over a year, it’s my new baby, but I need time with it and to figure that out. There really isn’t a genre I would stamp to it. It’s about family, kids in high school. People that say that I’m a horror filmmaker, because of “Krisha” and “It Comes at Night,” I find that bizarre. I guess it was just where those stories came from, it was the emotions I felt and my personal connections to them and it just came out into that. I just want to tell stories I care about, pour my heart and soul, tell them in a way that feels right to me. Hopefully, I get to keep doing that, we’ll see [laughs].
“It Comes At Night” is now playing.
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