By Danny Madden | Drama
A bullied teen gives a powerful performance in her drama class.

Krista is a young woman who is beset by bullies, constantly facing harassment, particularly from one predator, who goes too far one day — an encounter witnessed by his brother, who is also one of Krista’s classmates.

But in her high school drama class, she finds herself exorcising her anger and rage through a powerful, unhinged performance, forcing a confrontation of sorts and achieving a necessary catharsis.

This layered, nuanced dramatic short — written by Will and Danny Madden and directed by Danny Madden — excavates the inner landscape of its main character, revealing a young woman under siege and learning to give voice and expression to her experience and her rage.

The filmmaking takes an almost impressionistic approach to both narrative and craft, eschewing the simple and straightforward in favor of the sensory and emotional. The rattle of a chain fence, a darkening sky, the glisten of steam in a bathroom mirror and the constant menace of a bully and harasser: these details are captured with a loose, often hand-held camera, with an eye often focused on the seemingly marginal but poetic detail.

The editing and pacing move with anxious, whirling energy, never quite settling into a sustained groove or an intimate stillness. Instead, it very much reflects Krista’s state of mind: fragmented, dissipated and full of inchoate feeling as she shifts through what she’s been through. It also reflects the way the narrative is constructed in the film, which is not as a classical forward-moving causal chain of action and reaction, but the way memory records trauma: as a series of sensations, impressions and emotions, hung together by an overall sense of powerlessness.

Lead actor Shirley Chen’s multifaceted firebrand of a performance captures both this helplessness in the face of violence, but also the reckoning and aftermath. She may be slight and petite in physicality, but there’s a seething within her as she grapples with what’s happened. Chen’s honest, unvarnished portrayal of this building rage and anger feels both unpredictable and yet precisely calibrated, and when it all comes out during a high school drama exercise, it’s riveting to watch on all levels.

The cultural context of “Krista” — which was expanded into the 2020 Sundance Film Festival feature film Beast Beast, executive produced by Alec Baldwin — may seem to evoke the Time’s Up and MeToo movement. But with its artful craftsmanship, its focus on subjectivity and its evocation of a catharsis of almost classical Greek theatrical intensity, it escapes the trap of topicality and becomes something searing, hypnotic and timeless.

Instead, “Krista” becomes a journey of a young woman, stripped of her dignity and agency, learning to express and give shape to the starkest levels of rage and anger at finding herself helpless in a hostile world. Even when she has no literal voice, she finds her power — as well as a release of the powerlessness that holds her hostage, and a self-granted freedom to move forward.

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