Shults. Trey Edward Shults debuted with Krisha in 2015. The film isn’t on that level but it introduces a talent like was shown in Who’s That Knocking at My Door from Scorsese or 1998’s Pi from Darren Aronofsky (two other films essentially made for zero budget). Shults now has three features under his belt—but he’s largely here on the top 250 because of 2019’s Waves. It is one of those films destined to be rediscovered years from now (let’s hope it doesn’t take decades). Waves’ cinematic accomplishment is undeniable—and it isn’t one of the best films of 2019 because of smart casting, a great performance, a veteran DP—a happy accident—not at all. Shults is driving all aspects of the film’s greatness. Shults is now 3 for 3 in the archives, has one top 100 of its respective decade film (Waves), and has the stylistic and visual prowess to match (or surpass) any director of his generation.
Best film: Waves
- Trey Edward Shults’ Waves feels like something big. It is Shults’ third film—at the age of 31. Waves is a breakthrough for Shults’—it looks and feels like Krisha (Shults has an identifiable aesthetic—the mark of an auteur)—but where Krisha is a 6/10 in ambition—Waves is going for it—there wasn’t a more ambitious film made in 2019 in many ways—and that’s a year where Tarantino and Scorsese were given 100m+ in budget to do whatever they want.
- Waves starts off with a bang—after a brief shot of Taylor Russell’s Emily riding through the streets on a bike we’re off and running with aggressive rolling tracking shots showing Kelvin Harrison Jr.’s Tyler and his life. A 360-degree shot of Tyler with his girlfriend in the car (the first of 3-4 of these shots– and a shot Shults also employed in Krisha). Whip pans are the transitions and Shults paints a portrait of this American family largely without dialogue— simply with filmmaking bravura
- There is an abundance of blues and reds throughout the film. Believable color design like Kieslowski’s work or if we’re looking at 2019 we’re talking about Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood with yellow—2018’s Ash is the Purest White from Jia Zhangke did the same thing with the three chapters and use of three distinct colors. Certainly- back to Waves– the red is violence, blood—and the blues represent the cooler melodic second half of the film (Emily’s section)—I’m not entirely sure. But it makes for a cohesive visual design in the mise-en-scene. The awning at the diner, the car, the clothes, the team colors, Lucas Hedges literally hands the Russell character a blueberry sucker —a key here is the red and blue curtains in Harrison Jr’s room. Then as the film dissolves (after the haunting tracking shot of him stalking his ex-girlfriend) into a Native Son-like nightmare or Requiem of a Dream-like freefall (aided by the continual use of an abrasive film score and Kayne West music drops) we get the exaggerated/expressionistic red and blue of the police sirens (like the Safdie’s Good Time) and then as we literally go into a tunnel and come out the other side—a lava lamp-like color palate kaleidoscope interlude much like PT Anderson’s Punch Drunk–love.
- That breaking point is a dead stop for the film. During that color dump interlude that fades to black we come out if it in another film. We’re now in a narrative surrounding Russell’s Emily (who played a minor character in the first half of the film). She’s calmer—more introverted. She’s grieving—the trauma just happened to the entire family. It’s calmer, meditative- and the score and musical choices (Frank Ocean, Radiohead) match that.
- Didn’t read these until after the film and writing my review but really spot on from Joshua Rothopf who writes for Timeout “The artistic evolution Shults is undergoing makes him as exciting as anyone working today—he’s as sharp as a young Darren Aronofsky, and his heart is only growing larger.”
- Shults alters the aspect ratios as well when it suits the character’s moods—he’s not the first to do this (my favorite may be Xavier Dolan’s expanding of the screen in Mommy)
- The formal boldness of creating two films within has to hearken back to WKW’s Chungking Express or Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Syndromes and a Century (or almost all of Weerasethakul’s is bifurcated) but drastic narrative shifts moving from one character to another really start with Hitchcock in Psycho I believe or Antonioni with L’Avventura the same year.
- Shults can throw every pitch stylistically—I’ve mentioned the tracking shots with the camera movement, the use of color, he sets a frame (the symmetry and splendor of a shot in a church is a stunner but there are more)– he tries, through film style, to put the viewer in the head space of the characters. It’s the close-up of Pacino with the train whistle before the shooting of Sterling Hayden—it’s Hitchcock and Aronofsky in Pi. It’s the scene where everything goes haywire in the office of Punch-Drunk Love or the oilrig on fire scene in There Will Be Blood
- My guy Justin Chang for the LA times—“This is intensely physical filmmaking…”
total archiveable films: 3
top 100 films: 0
top 500 films: 0
top 100 films of the decade: 1 (Waves)
most overrated: There is nothing overrated from Shults. Anyone that thinks Krisha is superior to Waves is judging Krisha on a different scale because it was shot in a family members’ house and has almost zero budget. Shults doesn’t have a top 1000 film or a top 1000 of the 21st century film from the TSPDT consensus so there is nothing that’s overrated.
most underrated : Waves. Only 22 films from 2019 landed on the TSPDT 21st century consensus top 1000 and Waves, tragically, wasn’t one of them. That is incorrect.
gem I want to spotlight : It Comes at Night
- Not a large one but another small feather in the cap for Joel Edgerton and Riley Keough who continue to do steady work lately
- Shults has a knack for high stress/tension and paranoia through film style—not a narrative director really which is fine
- Shults creates atmosphere cinematically (deploring film style, creative sound design, reoccurring themes and motifs)
- Love the 4-5 dreamy surrealism sequences- I think that’s why it’s in the archives for me- it makes the entire situation ambiguous and quite haunting- though not traditionally
- Tough awkward moments between characters
- It’s dire, bleak an nihilistic- reminded me of The Road in terms of what sort of statement it makes on humanity—even having said that- it’s really a chamber drama- it’s not an expansive world, or overly ambitious cinema actually
- Two big moments of intensity in a short film- it’s a slow burn
- Portraits of a character and/or family in disarray
- Waves has it all—very muscular and ambitious filmmaking, so you could fill up another 1,000 words here- aggressive rolling tracking shots to start Waves, whip pans, use of blue/red in the believable color design, Ink-blot color interludes with mood implications like Punch-Drunk Love, The formal boldness of creating two films within has to hearken back to WKW’s Chungking Express or Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Syndromes and a Century
- Cinema of anxiety and formal callbacks – reoccurring use of cinema style to put yourself in the stressed out headspace of the protagonist
- 360 degree shots- the De Palma shot (and since we’re talking De Palma, it really means it originated with Hitchcock- haha)
- It Comes at Night
By year and grades
|2015 – Krisha
|2017- It Comes at Night
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives