Movie review of “The Fits”: Film is inspired by historic and recent stories of girls experiencing mass hysteria, though it offers no answers. Rating: 3-and-a-half out of 4 stars.
Watching “The Fits,” a whisper-brief debut from filmmaker Anna Rose Holmer, is a disorienting experience, and it’s meant to be; the eerie, metallic soundtrack vibrates somewhere between jazz and wail, at times seeming as if the movie itself is getting dizzy. It’s a sound that suits the strange time the film depicts: that brief, vivid moment when childhood and womanhood converge.
Toni (Royalty Hightower) is an 11-year-old Cincinnati girl who’s spending summer days at a community center, sparring playfully in a boxing ring with her older brother (Da’Sean Minor) and working out — not so much for the exercise but because she simply needs to move. A teen girls’ dance team — the Lionesses — practices at the same gym, and shy Toni, drawn to the giggly camaraderie between its members, joins them. Soon, however, she’s witnessing something disturbing: the older girls, one by one, seem to be experiencing mysterious spasms, or “fits.”
Inspired by historic and recent stories of girls experiencing mass hysteria, “The Fits” makes no attempt to explain what’s happening, or even to present much of a story. Instead, it mesmerizes with sound and movement: the Lionesses’ writhing, twisty dance steps (close cousins to those spasms); Toni’s constant, wary jumping and swaying, to music only she hears; another young girl’s running, flailing leaps across the width of an empty gym, as if trying to fill the space with her body.
Movie Review ★★★½
‘The Fits,’ with Royalty Hightower, Alexis Neblett, Da’Sean Minor, Lauren Gibson, Makyla Burnam, Inaya Rodgers, Antonio A.B. Grant Jr. Directed by Anna Rose Holmer, from a screenplay by Holmer, Saela Davis and Lisa Kjerulff. 72 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. SIFF Cinema Uptown.
It’s a curious world that Toni is entering, and Hightower’s quiet watchfulness takes it all in. Almost no adults appear in the film (Toni’s mother is mentioned but never seen), nor do strangers appear in the eerily empty outdoor scenes, with Toni dancing on a bridge or crossing an empty swimming pool.
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You can watch “The Fits” as a metaphor for female adolescence, or just revel in the way these girls can’t seem to hold still: perched on a railing, they seem to be diving into some unknown void, only to pull themselves back upright again — at least for now.
“It hasn’t happened to any of the boys,” says one girl, of the spells. “Yeah,” replies another. “But we’re not them.”