Donovan once sang it "must be the season of the witch" and with Robert Eggers' New England folktale, The Witch, and Anna Rose Holmer's The Fits, Donovan might be on to something. The Fits leaves audiences simultaneously enraptured and curious, concoting a hazy world remarkably unremarkable, filled with double meanings and symbolism. One of the year's best films with a powerhouse performance from newcomer Royalty Hightower makes The Fits a "fitting" entry in a cinematic landscape examining female adolescence.
Toni (Hightower) is a young girl interested in boxing but who dreams of joining her gym's local dance troupe filled with confident older girls and the youngesters who idolize them. Toni soon joins the troupe's ranks, but when the girls are taken down by mysterious fits, the younger girls are left confused...and interested in having a fit of their own.
Making her narrative feature debut, director and co-screenwriter Anna Rose Holmer delivers a film bursting with talking points, that's as confident and clear as the girls Toni idolizes. It's been awhile since I've watched a film that left me with so much food for thought that deconstruction would turn this review into an analytical essay.
We enter a world as mysterious and unknown for us as it is for our heroine; Toni has seemingly has spent her time in isolation at the local gym with her brother, boxing and getting physically fit. She's drawn to the dance troupe for reasons even she doesn't fully comprehend. The girls inside are older, physically developed, and have an air of inner confidence about them and Toni's inclusion in the troupe requires complete dedication and a total absence of individuality. "Stop thinking like an individual and start thinking like a team" is the group's mantra, and it leaves you wondering if the girls' fits are more mass hysteria or a team-building exercise than an actual illness.
The coven of girls in the troupe, with their rhythm, dominate their lives as much as the soundtrack. There isn't a soundtrack in the typical sense, short of a song at the denounement, because the background is filled with clapping, chanting, and other communal activities of inclusion which create an atmosphere of superstition. Before Toni tries out she's surrounded by loud, running girls, juxtaposed next to her isolated silent self, and as repetitious as the dance movies are it breaks Toni's usual routine of pushing waterbottles uphill like a modern-day Sisyphus.
The titled "fits" are an enigma, representing everything from loss of virginity to hysteria, but with an eye toward femininity. The moviegoer is as confused and scared as Toni is, with school administrators and the other girls trying to identify a common demoninator between those afflicted. "Is it contagious," Toni asks and that sentence provides infinite fascination throughtout the entire film. Is this something the girls will catch? Some actually want to catch it to make themselves look cool. (Women out there, remember when you wanted to get your period because everyone else had it?) The ones not prone to seizures and choking ask the afflicted "what is it like;" attacking those who haven't experienced it at all and like a shark, the mystery disease picks off each girl.
Royalty Hightower as Toni and Alexis Neblett as Toni's friend, Beezy are average girls who embrace the film's quiet and unexplainable nature. Hightower is nearly mute for the film's first eleven minutes, inquisitively and stoicly taking in events, never showing her reactions to those around her. Her interactions are limited to the rec center, and though her family is referenced, Toni has little surpervision or interest in the outside world. As the young child with artificial confidence, Neblett makes Beezy Toni's best friend by sticking around and taking an interest in what Toni's doing.
Those mystified by The Witch will be equally enthralled by The Fits. Anna Rose Holmer and Royalty Hightower are a breath of fresh air in a film that never dispels easy answers, content to challenge the audience long after the credits have rolled.
The Fits is already out in New York and comes to theaters in Los Angeles this Friday, June 10