D: Anna Rose Holmer / 72m
Cast: Royalty Hightower, Alexis Neblett, Makyla Burnam, Da’Sean Minor, Lauren Gibson, Antonio A.B. Grant Jr, Inayah Rodgers
Toni (Hightower) is an eleven year old who hangs out with her older brother Jermaine (Minor) at their local gym where he’s training to be a boxer. She uses the time and opportunity to work out, and occasionally, spars with Jermaine and his friend, Donté (Grant Jr). It’s a situation she’s more than happy with, but when she becomes aware of the dance class that takes place elsewhere in the building, Toni becomes intrigued by the sense of camaraderie and commitment the girls in the group exhibit.
Eventually she joins the group. Some of the older girls are rehearsing for an upcoming competition after achieving success in another. As Toni begins to make friends and learn the routines, one of the older girls has a fit. Though unexpected, the group carries on rehearsing until the same thing happens to another of the older girls. Suspicion for the fits falls on the water supply to the building, but even though everyone is advised to drink bottled water, the fits continue to affect several of the girls, including some of the younger ones. But is there a simple solution to what’s happening, or is it a form of hysteria that has no obvious source?
Anna Rose Holmer’s debut feature is a low-key, minimalist drama that unfolds slowly and with great deliberation. It maintains a steady, thoughtful pace throughout, and uses an observational approach that’s almost documentary-like in style (and which should be unsurprising given Holmer’s background in documentaries, and where she’s known as Anna Farrell). The story is kept very simple, as Toni’s attempts to fit in are offset by the rising tide of paranoia that affects the dance group, even after the mains water is ruled out as a cause for the fits. Holmer is clever enough not to provide any definitive answers for the seizures, and the movie retains its credibility even as the mystery deepens.
But while Holmer’s approach to her own material is consistently and carefully measured, it’s the material itself that doesn’t reward the viewer quite as effectively. Toni’s switch from boxing to dancing comes about thanks to her curiosity about the dance group, and a need to fit in amongst children of her own age and gender. But Toni makes few efforts to forge any friendships, and she remains a passive observer of each successive seizure and development. This makes it difficult to invest in the movie on a personal level, and while emotions run high on screen, the distancing effect adopted by Holmer makes Toni’s experiences more of an intellectual exercise than a moving one.
Rating: 7/10 – bolstered by a terrific performance by Hightower, The Fits is nevertheless a movie that keeps its distance from the viewer and makes it difficult to enjoy on a conventional level; strong on ideas, but with Holmer focused more on how the movie is assembled, it’s a feature to be admired for its rigorous approach rather than how affecting it is.