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‘Krisha’ Director Trey Edward Shults Sets Up His Next Challenge With a Musical

Set to star Lucas Hedges and Sterling K. Brown, ‘Waves’ will tackle searing emotions through a fresh musical lens.
Sterling K Brown Lucas Hedges
By  · Published on July 3rd, 2018

Set to star Lucas Hedges and Sterling K. Brown, ‘Waves’ will tackle searing emotions through a fresh musical lens.

Trey Edward Shults is making a musical. That’s right, the guy who directed both the harrowing family drama Krisha and one of last year’s most buzzworthy psychological horror films, It Comes at Night, will tackle a musical as his next feature.

To be fair, to assume that all movies that feature song (and perhaps dance?) will turn out to be a glitzy and glamorous affair is plain hubris. Some of the best musicals actually tell the darkest tales: look to Sweeney Todd, Les Miserables, or Spring Awakening for confirmation on that front. And from what we know about Shults’ upcoming feature so far – while taking into account the characteristics of his existing filmography as well – it could very well follow in a similarly dark tradition.

According to Variety, Shults’ Waves will be a “dramatic musical with a fresh spin” that focuses on adolescence and the throes of being a teenager today. The film will track two young couples navigating love and life. Lucas Hedges (Manchester By the Sea) and Sterling K. Brown (This Is Us) are in negotiations to lead the picture, and the rest of the main cast reportedly continues to shape up. Shults, who has written all of his feature films so far, will pen the Waves script.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a Shults movie without singling out the music either. Another notable aspect about Waves is the fact that the filmmaker will forego collaborating with composer Brian McOmber, who worked on Shults’ prior two movies. Instead, Academy Award-winning duo Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross will take up composing duties on Waves. Variety notes that we can expect the film to be “almost entirely synchronized to music,” and contemporary tunes will be peppered throughout Reznor and Ross’s score.

That’s a lot of stuff to unpack from a single trade announcement, but these separate components already bring something fresh and exciting to the table. An up-and-coming director with nothing but excellent films under his belt? Check. A stellar cast? Check. One of the most formidable duos in film scoring? Absolutely check. Together, especially under Shults’ assured directorial vision, the results will likely be phenomenal.

With just two films in his wheelhouse, Shults has managed to configure a purposefully languid, desaturated style to fit radically different genres, producing equally disturbing movies without being repetitive. His stylistic distinctiveness comes from formalistic experimentation that works in service of a particular story. Shults mentioned to our own Matthew Monagle that he made noticeably different directorial choices while putting together It Comes at Night compared to Krisha. An obvious way to spot these disparities would be in the differing ambiances and textures found in the films’ soundtracks.

The music of Krisha is as eccentric as its dysfunctional family, while It Comes at Night is comparatively much more bare bones. There is a lot of empty space in the latter’s sound edit that is instead filled by the tension of dread that the characters experience within a near-silent woodland setting. Krisha, on the other hand, marries the frenetic energy of its eponymous protagonist with the taut caution of the family around her by putting together a busier, richer soundtrack.

In an interview with Go See Talk, McOmber notes that the music of Krisha had to ebb and flow with the drama. For instance, a particularly chatty portion of the film worked especially well because the “persistent and creepy” score faded in and out of the seven-minute-long scene, fostering an environment that isn’t sonically overwhelming. Rather, audiences are able to still focus on the action in the frame while feeling that sense of foreboding.

Speaking to Monagle, Shults states that by the end of the psychological terror in It Comes at Night, “nightmare and reality have become one.” This is arguably the case for Krisha as well despite Shults’ debut having a tonally and narratively disparate plot. Both of his feature films crescendo in tension until the reality of their powerfully upsetting messages comes crashing down on audiences. They then linger long after the screen cuts to black.

Now Shults seems to be shifting gears once again. It’s fascinating to imagine where he’ll go next in an unprecedented genre for him. Fortunately, Reznor and Ross fit perfectly into the director’s muted but spellbinding aesthetic, and they’re obviously already masters of their craft.

Of their work on the big screen, the duo found particular critical acclaim working with the similarly precise images of David Fincher. Reznor and Ross don’t simply write music that sends shivers down spines. Their scores can crawl over the skin too, as evidenced in their work on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (the score has a track titled “An Itch” that aptly demonstrates this point).

Moreover, Reznor and Ross are also very much capable of inspiring emotional intensity through their soundtracks. The infamous “Hand Covers Bruise” in The Social Network immediately comes to mind, but the Patriots Day score is also incredibly moving. As McOmber’s work supplements as well as ties together the threads of Shults’ confronting narratives, Reznor and Ross likewise create livable if disquieting onscreen worlds in their compositions.

Still, how will the stars of Waves meet any potential musical demands? As far as the actors are concerned, Hedges, who actually supposes that he is “not a great singer,” manages to bust out a little “Giants in the Sky” in Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. We only heard a little bit of it, but it’s commendably earnest. 

Meanwhile, Brown proves to be even more of a solid choice for a musical. Witness the magic below in a “Motownphilly” cover featuring Chadwick Boseman and Josh Gad, and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Waves will bring about new challenges for Shults, that much is abundantly clear. The risk-taking, chameleonic quality of his feature films exude a kind of confidence that keeps him on our radar. Shults has so far pushed boundaries of genre and form in his work, and the prospect of his own dramatic musical is purely exhilarating.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)