‘The Fits’ is a Striking Twist on the Coming-of-Age Story

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Growing up is a difficult time for everybody. It’s a constant struggle searching for your own identity, and the biological functions of puberty and the swirling hormones make matters even more difficult. These aspects are front and center in The Fits, a new film from first-time director Anna Rose Holmer. The Fits is an intriguing blend of drama and horror, one that shuns jump scares for a slowly building terror of ambiguity. This is an incredibly assured directorial debut, a movie that is so confident in its premise that it raises more questions than it answers yet remains a wholly satisfying cinematic experience.

Toni (Royalty Hightower) is an 11-year-old tomboy who spends most of her days around a local community center with her older brother Jermaine (Da’Sean Minor). The bond between the siblings is close, as Toni helps Donté around the community center by doing laundry and assisting in the cleaning. She works out and he helps her with boxing, a sport that consumes much of the elder sibling’s time. Toni longingly looks at a local dance troupe that practices at the community center, and eventually joins their ranks on the lower levels. Toni slowly builds friendships with some of the other young girls the troupe and tirelessly practices her moves even though much of the choreography is beyond her abilities at present. Then things start getting weird. A number of the young girls in the troupe are afflicted with seize-like moments, they collapse and convulse. It’s the dubbed “the fits,” and many of the experts fear that it is caused by contaminated drinking water. Over time, each and every of these young girls have their own moment when grappled by the fits, and each have completely different experiences than the others. Continuing her outsider status, Toni is one of the few that hasn’t had to deal with the strange affliction that is circulating around this troupe.

Running a scant 72 minutes, The Fits is remarkable in its ability to craft characters and an escalating tension in a short period of time. The film is extremely judicious in its editing, knowing when to have a scene last a little longer and when to just cut and move the action forward. There’s a real elegance to the shot composition of The Fits as well, with visual language taking prominence over dialogue. When relationships are strained, there’s no wordy, teary-eyed speech about how someone has changed, instead this all presented by showing a distance between characters where there was once a closeness.

Most of all, this is a slow burn horror film about the transition from adolescence into adulthood. At least my reading of the film (after all I am a dude) is that this is a tale about the changes of the feminine body, and the unsettling moment when a girl menstruates for the first time. Of course, this isn’t presented like the opening scene of De Palma’s Carrie, which for all of its virtues isn’t exactly subtle. There’s a grace on display in making this movie about maturing femininity, one that should appeal to the more discerning moviegoer. By no means should anyone enter The Fits thinking they’re seeing a popcorn piece of pop horror. This is a movie that blends the arthouse with the horror show.

Young Royalty Hightower gives a stunning performance as the young Toni. She encapsulates all those mixed emotions of youth, especially those of an outsider. She peers into conversations of others through windows, desperate not to be seen; there’s a quickness to her movement when someone even turns in her direction as she stares from a distance, like a prey realizing a predator is near. Hightower really gives Toni a sense of vulnerability to match her attempts at a tough exterior, which really comes into play in an amusing scene of the young girl getting her ears pierced.

The Fits isn’t the type of film that’s going to hold your hand around every corner and explain the minutiae for you. Anna Rose Holmer has more than enough respect for the audience and their ability to figure things out. After all, the more ambiguous aspects of a story can be the most frightening, and nothing is worse than an unsatisfactory explanation. There’s no unsatisfying explanations in The Fits because little is explained; therein lies the brilliance. Not much in this life is really explained, and that’s fucking terrifying.

The Fits
  • Overall Score
4

Summary

A blend of the arthouse and horror show, The Fits is striking debut feature that builds its tension upon the frightening realities of growing up.

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