The Fits (2015, dir. Anna Rose Holmer)
Toni, an eleven-year-old girl, is very focused and determined when it comes to working out with her brother at the local community center’s boxing gym. She even stays after to help him wash towels, replace water cooler jugs, and get a little extra training. However, she’s recently been intrigued with a competitive girls’ dance team that trains in the larger gym at the community center. Slowly, Toni begins to be torn between these two worlds and witnesses girls on the team seemingly falling ill to strange trance-like seizures.
The Fits is a film that is all about establishing tone. It’s the strongest aspect of the film is makes it the most palpable element of the picture. This is the sort of film that is less concerned with spelling out everything its plot and more interested in creating spaces to interpreted and for different viewers to read different things based on how they receive the tone. I would personally classify The Fits as a horror film based on its tone alone. There is a building sense of tension seen through the eyes of Toni, matched by a dissonant music track that evoked confusion and fear.
The cast is presented in very naturalistic ways, with many distant shots like a passive observer watching the kids go about their day to day activities. There is also an intentional absence of melodrama. Nothing is romanticized, and dialogue doesn’t attempt to telegraph themes and ideas to the audience. While the runtime is only 72 minutes, this is a film that demands your attention and thoughtfulness. The intent appears not to be an explicitly feel good film about a young girl coming of age, but rather a mood piece that relays what a terrifying experience it is to come of age, particularly when the conflict of gender expectations is so strong and pulling the child in different directions.
Royalty Hightower plays Toni and defies the common problem with child actors, the over emotive cuteness. Ms. Hightower plays her character so deftly it’s hard to know if she’s acting. I have a feeling almost everything we see on screen is performance, and that is a testament to her strengths about understanding character and subtleties in acting at such a young age. My fear was Toni would be played a miniature adult after the first few minutes of the film, but we get wonderful scenes of her being playful with friends after hours around the community center than remind us this is a little kid. The rest of the cast feels very very real but doesn’t get much of a focus. Director Holmer is very clear that this is a film about Toni.
There are some very prominent feminist themes through the film but never become didactic. Just like with the establishment of tone, there is a refrain from telling the audience what they should think about what is on screen. The ending of the film is similarly ambiguous, my personal interpretation being that it is a hallucination. But like with everything in this film there’s a very strong counterargument that what we see is literally happening to Toni.
The Fits is a film that will frustrate audiences looking for a clear, traditional plot structure. The film’s pace is slow but still manages to give relevant information to the viewer. You’ll have to keep an eye on the film, or you’ll miss very subtle delivery of the major plot points. Overall this is a fantastic example of horror as tone rather than tropes and plot devices.