Director: Anna Rose Holme.
Writers: Saela Davis, Anna Rose Holme.
Actors: Royalty Hightower, Alexis Neblett, Da’Sean Minor and Lauren Gibson.
The hype cycle of film festival is a strange thing. Most of the time you’re hearing people’s immediate reactions to a movie which might or might not be the most reliable of opinions. Still, you think that thousands of critics and festival goers can’t be wrong, so it makes sense to check that movie out when you can. But sometimes that festival hype can steer you in the wrong direction.
That’s what happened with THE FITS. This movie, which currently has a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes, was hyped out of Sundance. The premise sounded interesting: a young girl who is a boxer decides to try out for the dance team who practices in the same gym. The movie follows her as she struggles to fit in with this different group dynamic and style of training. When the girls on the team start suffering from what they call “the fits,” essentially seizures that come suddenly and without warning, she has to fight her own fears about the disease.
All of this sounds like an amazing movie, unfortunately first-time director Anna Rose Holmer’s lofty ambitions fall short when it comes time to execute them and put together a cohesive film. To begin with the positive, Royalty Highwater is amazing as the aloof Toni. She’s a girl who has discipline and drive. We see countless training sessions of her keeping up with her older brother where she’s doing sit-ups, pull-ups, and running up and down stairs. Still, she barely speaks and we never really get a good sense of why she does the things she does, just that she’s driven to do them well.
Trying to watch the movie is an exercise in tonal whiplash which the score has a lot to do with it. Throughout the majority of the movie, the score’s dark and ominous melodies make everything feel much more dreadful than they are in reality. Instead, Toni’s brother is super supportive and encouraging of her new endeavor and even the dance team girls who looked super judgy are relatively more welcoming despite Toni and her fellow newbies being terrible. If the score is supposed to foreshadow the darkness and dreariness that’s going to permeate through the last half of the movie then it does too good of a job because the entire movie felt just like a total downer.
The movie also doesn’t spoon feed you anything, which most of the time could be a brilliant directing choice. Any time adults are talking the score makes their dialogue inaudible, and their faces are always out of focus. All of this leads the movie to effectively feel like we’re inside Toni’s head the whole time which is a conventionally brave choice. Did she get earrings to fit in to the dance team or to flirt with one her older brother’s boxing buddies? Did she take them off because she hates her teammates? We never know. But that all speaks to Hightower’s acting prowess.
The biggest problem is when the movie focuses on the “fits.” At first it’s theorized that they are part of a water contamination but as it spreads through the whole team and we find that’s it not the case, the whole concept stops making much sense. Is the “fits” puberty? No, because it affected the older girls first. Is it pregnancy? No because it affects pre-teens. Is it death? Maybe? In the end whatever allegorical meaning is supposed to come across gets lost in the awkwardly edited scenes.
Seriously, the movie’s very ambiguous story makes it really easy for this movie to be “good.” But it’s more likely festival word of mouth. There’s a lot of ambition in the way the story is told but thanks to the music, it ends up being a dreadful experience.