Trey Edward Shults is the writer, director and co-star of the 2015 award-winning film Krisha. The film premiered at SXSW where it received the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award, and had its international premiere at the Cannes Film Festival where it played in Semaine de la Critique. A24 acquired worldwide rights to Krisha, and also released Trey’s follow-up, the 2017 horror thriller It Comes at Night, starring Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Riley Keough. His latest film, the family drama Waves, starring Kelvin Harrison Jr., Lucas Hedges, Taylor Russell and Sterling K. Brown, is now in theaters, also through A24.
Wow…I’ve just seen a great film. A much-needed film….
To give you some context, I just got back from my first trip to Cannes, where my film was in competition in the Semaine de la Critique sidebar. I had my family and friends in Southern France celebrating a little film we all made together. As soon as I returned home and back to reality, the melancholy hit, as it always does after an incredible experience ends. For our film, it has happened many times. There have been starts and stops; our makeshift family is together for intense periods of time, and then apart for months. I remember after the production shoot was over in August, and I had to drive equipment back to Austin, I broke into tears just thinking about how this special moment was over. I felt the same way after SXSW, and then returning from Cannes.
I’ve been home and back to reality for over a week. It’s weird going from doing press on a beach in Southern France, to being back at my parents’ house, broke, trying to just scrape together enough money to pay the vet for my poor, sick cat. On top of this, I’ve basically been obsessing over my own movie the past couple of months. Between festivals, reading reviews, and doing press, it is easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole of your own film. Needless to say, before I saw The Tribe, I was looking for a little pick-me-up and something else to dive into that didn’t have to do with my own film.
I first became aware of The Tribe when it swept the awards last year in Cannes at the Semaine de la Critique. I heard about how it was this movie with deaf kids and Ukrainian Sign Language, and how the movie didn’t have any subtitles or translation. I believe it literally won every award that’s given in the sidebar, whereas my film won none. Naturally, my curiosity has, as of late, turned into envy. The film went on to have an extremely successful festival run, garnering more than 30 awards and playing the top festivals in the world. After having finally seen The Tribe, all its praise is of no surprise to me. It is a fantastic film, and the kind that reinvigorates me. It is pure cinema. I don’t recall one line of spoken dialogue. It’s a story of primal human emotions told entirely visually. It’s basically a contemporary silent film.
I feel like there have been a few amazing movies lately that are using the medium to get at pure cinema. One of my favorite films last year was Under the Skin, and I saw another incredible near-silent film this weekend with Mad Max: Fury Road. People have already compared Max to Buster Keaton, so it’s not like I am shedding any new light here. What gets me so excited, though, is that Mad Max and The Tribe are two films at complete opposite ends of the spectrum. One is a $150 million movie made through the Hollywood system, and the other is a $1.5 million art-house film made in the Ukraine. One is made by a 70-year-old director who has been working for decades, and the other is a debut film. One contains up to 200 cuts for one sequence and is overflowing with set pieces, score, and a hilarious flame-throwing guitar. The other has hardly any cuts throughout, and is stripped bare of score, sound, and musical instruments doubling as weapons. It is maximalist versus minimalist. Both premiered at Cannes and have a very strong impact. Both get me excited and passionate about the possibilities of cinema.
I don’t want to bore you with a synopsis for The Tribe or spoil anything. I just want to urge you to see this movie. This is the kind of film that needs our support and will never have the marketing campaign or fan base of Fury Road. The Tribe is bold, brave, and new. It’s like Lord of the Flies, the Pusher Trilogy and the Romanian New Wave had a love child. On top of that, it’s an incredibly smart way to make a compelling contemporary silent film where every scene is a puzzle to figure out. It’s tough, tense as hell, and tragic. Stylistically, the film is full of long, roaming takes that are immersive and bring you deeper into the story. The poor Steadicam operator must have had a grueling job every single day of production. (My Steadicam operator was intimidated by the opening take in our film, which was the first 12 pages of the script.) The Tribe is full of takes like this that never seem to end, and are perfectly framed and choreographed. The last take of the film was so damn tense and shocking that it was almost unbearable. I don’t want to go crazy with hyperbole here; I just want to urge you to see this film, and to see it in a cinema.
Drafthouse Films is coming through as a brave distributor for the film, and as far as I can tell, it is planning a smart release that begins with a limited theatrical run. The irony is that I am writing this having viewed the film on a screener, rather than seeing it in a theater. I do fully intend on finding a theater and re-watching it when it is released. I can’t go to any press screenings where I live, because I’m in middle-of-nowhere Montgomery, Texas, where I have to drive an hour to get to an art-house cinema. If you live in a city where this is playing, you have no excuse. See it on the big screen. If I haven’t convinced you, then watch the fantastic trailer. If you like the trailer, I will be shocked if you don’t like the film. I don’t really care if you like the film or not. Just see it, and see it in a cinema on the big screen, the way a film like this deserves to be seen.
I started this piece talking about the spell of melancholy I fell under after Cannes. I’m glad to say that melancholy is completely gone for the moment, and it has been replaced by hunger. Hunger to continue to get my film into the world and start working on the next one. Hunger to find and consume more cinema like The Tribe that does new things I hadn’t considered a movie could do. Hunger to push harder and to experiment, and to make my next film the best it can be. Honestly, the most important thing to me is making films that people haven’t quite seen before. The Tribe easily achieves this, and I hope it inspires you in the same way it has inspired me. Also, am I crazy in thinking The Tribe and Fury Road would make a kickass double feature?