Movie Review: ‘THE FITS’ is filled with impressive debuts

Courtney Howard // Film Critic

THE FITS | 1h 12min | Unrated
Directed by: Anna Rose Holmer
Starring: Royalty HightowerAlexis NeblettInayah Rodgers, Da’Sean Minor

THE FITS is as if GIRLHOOD met IT FOLLOWS and CARRIE. Director Anna Rose Holmer turns in an atmospheric coming-of-age horror film that’s resonant, immediate and unsettling. Superbly surreal, it marks the impressive debut of a handful of staggering new voices in cinema. At first glance the scope may seem small, but the scale in which it will impact most audiences is tremendous.

11-year-old tomboy Toni (Royalty Hightower) is a boxing gym rat, training hours on end with her brother Jermaine (Da’Sean Minor) at their local community center in Cincinnati. One day, she becomes entranced with a group of girls from the Lionesses Dance Team. They are sparkly, skillful and beautiful. Struggling to find her own voice, laconic Toni quietly observes and imitates what she sees, slowly ingratiating herself into the group. She makes friends with gregarious Beezy (Alexis Neblett), paints her nails with gold glitter nailpolish and pierces her ears. However, as she begins to fit in, a mysterious sickness befalls the dance troupe leaders – one that causes the young ladies to faint and/ or collapse into spasms.

THE FITS captures that weird time and place between childhood and teenagedom. Even with that universal resonance, I loved that this story speaks to a singular experience. The way Toni’s maturation develops is culturally significant. It’s clear that “the fits” these girls succumb to are a metaphor for entering womanhood. Holmer and editor/ co-screenwriter Saela Davis take cues from the use of metaphors in IT FOLLOWS to get the point of their narrative across – except here, it’s done with far more subtlety, grace and effectiveness. As our time with Toni clicks away, we feel the push-pull of her decisions about her identity – whether or not she’ll reject or embrace the inevitable. Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans’ score is pitch-perfect, putting us in a haunting trance. Plus, the story is inherently feminist-friendly and brisk, clocking in at 72 minutes.

Royalty Hightower in THE FITS. Courtesy of Oscilloscope Labs.

Royalty Hightower in THE FITS. Courtesy of Oscilloscope Labs.

The performance by Hightower, who carries the weight of the story on her shoulders, is staggering. Her confidence never wavers, finding nuance within her many non-dialogue-driven scenes. Her physicality connotates a lot. While I can’t quite say the same for the kids in supporting extra roles (evident mainly in the group scene at the end where the extras aren’t nearly as polished), her commitment to her character is astounding, given this is her first film. Holmer’s technique of layered visual storytelling is astounding. I can see it being dissected in film school for years to come. Her static use of the camera and how she frames her protagonist adds another dimension to the narrative.

While it may not resonate with all audiences (some were left scratching their heads after my press screening), and it may be missing one more powerful ingredient in achieving full umami, the select few that do find this rarity are bound to adore it.

THE FITS is now playing in NYC and opens June 10 in limited release (at Laemmle’s Monica Film Center in Santa Monica, CA and Playhouse 7 in Pasadena, CA). It will open June 17 at Laemmle’s North Hollywood and Orange County, CA. To find out where it’s playing near you, go here.

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