THE FITS (2016) – A REVIEW BY RYAN MARSHALL

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If Anna Rose Holmer is simply testing the waters with her marvelously brooding first feature, then let it be said that she isn’t content to merely leave it at that and swims around a little; and even if the New York native isn’t quite as fearless as her outstanding work would suggest, and it’s likely that she is, she’s quick to conceal it for the entire duration, which is just a few minutes short of seventy.

THE FITS is a bold and totally committed portrait of isolation, maturation, and an inexplicable outbreak of hysterics – all filtered through the curious, abstracted gaze of an eleven year old girl. Tony (Royalty Hightower) exists in what is unmistakably a “man’s world” and yet the temptation of normality is never too far. Day after day, she trains with her brother Jermaine (Da’Sean Minor), a boxer, in their local community center, but a trip down the hall to retrieve a water jug could inevitably lead to a voyeuristic view of the dance team which also functions there.

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What is initially a grim reminder of the character’s introversion is soon turned into an outlet for pent-up frustration and desires alike, until the titular epidemic begins to spread throughout the building’s female population. As one can probably infer, this is certainly a weird one, and one can also imagine it might have been a bit of a tough sell; as much a coming-of-age narrative of remarkable posture and patience as a disturbing psychological horror film that never steps over into discernible genre territory.

And yet, these prove to be rather attractive qualities in the end. There isn’t a single moment that goes by when we aren’t seeing the events through the eyes of our charming protagonist, never a time when her loneliness and pursuit of social acceptance isn’t felt deep in the gut. Cinematographer Paul Yee’s work here should not go unmentioned, as virtually every frame is packed with pulsating tension, and every hypnotic movement registers as the purest expression of a singular soul. It threatens to alienate through suppression, but so do most films that commit this thoroughly to it.

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The film’s potent sense of dread is thankfully complemented by something comparatively sweeter but not so much that the atmosphere loses density as a result. THE FITS has a great deal of merit as a testament to the relationships that young women forge during their formative years, as evidenced when Toni takes a shine to Beezy (Alexis Neblett), a younger dancer. Their friendship is simultaneously a complicated and beautiful one; in other words, it’s entirely believable, no small thanks on the part of the efforts of the cast.

Hightower is an exceptional find, her presence positively demanding your attention with the kind of naturalistic swagger that would suggest a successful career in the cards, further enhanced by the actress’s intrepid gamble with the unfathomable void which surrounds her.  If there’s any price at all that Holmer must pay for such gratifying results, it’s that sometimes her interest in crafting exquisite tonal stagnation occasional gives way to sequences which border on relatively mild tedium. Luckily, this doesn’t speak for the experience on a whole, but in a film that is otherwise so intoxicating, it has the tendency to induce a distinct sinking sensation.

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Nevertheless, this is an exhilarating and audacious first-timer, even more poignant afterwards than it is in motion. So much of it – especially that oddly enticing ending, which is certainly more cathartic than downright odd in retrospect  – can seem cold and uninviting, when really it embraces a spectacularly unorthodox existence. Holmer’s decidedly different beast isn’t always the easiest to pin down, unless the rather blunt central metaphor is taken into consideration, but getting anywhere close to doing so works just fine. Simply put, it’s a peculiar pleasure, getting lost in the film’s depressed depths. If Holmer doesn’t have all the right answers, she at least does well to ask all the right questions.

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