I’m not sure what to make of The Fits. I think that’s okay, it’s the first feature film by Anna Rose Holmer, and it’s clearly trying to cover a lot of ground. It’s exploring belonging and gender presentation and coming of age as a black girl. It’s a delicate balancing act for the most part and you wonder if it could end without collapsing, it sorta does, but these things happen and I’m disinclined to judge the film too harshly for it.
It’s a creeping film, all slow and methodical, Anna Rose Holmer and cinematographer Paul Yee lock off their camera for the vast majority of this film, revelling in how these characters move in and out of the frame. It’s like one of those great haunted house films, in which you realise the shape the environment takes is a malevolent one. I’m pretty sure judging by the special thank at the end of the credits this was filmed on and around the one community centre, they did a good job in finding it. The grime of every underfunded, underutilised community centre ever is present here, the grotty water fountains, tacky carpets, the stage with a single chair on it that is never used. It’s a place which is perfect for the film, one that can feel both haunting and home. The film like all haunted houses never leaves this space
Royalty Hightower plays Toni, in this totally baller physical performance, she a kid who don’t talk much, her character growth coming largely as an extension of how she inhabits her body, she spends every afternoon at the boxing gym at the community centre her brother works at, helping him out and training. One afternoon she spies into the rehearsal room of The Lionessess, a dance troupe that rehearses there, and determines to join. Upon joining she finds the girls are all starting to suffer from what appear to be unprovoked seizures, everyone agrees that rehearsals must continue and investigations are made into what’s causing this.
The script does a great job at placing our leads, Toni, and her friends Maia (Lauren Gibson) and Beezy (Alexis Neblett), right at the edge of these conversations. Per-pubescent, they are growing into this world they do not yet quite understand, the interactions between the boys downstairs boxing and the girls upstairs dancing remain a mystery, we get the sense of the drama that has apparently gone on, but don’t know enough to untangle that web. Same with the ongoing investigations and hospitalisations, people disappear, words are caught from private conversations, but we as the audience are kept firmly on the outside. I understand if that be frustrating.
Might be worth saying here that an ongoing plot point is the possible contamination of the centre’s water supply, which is investigated but never resolved. Seems the script was all written even before the Flint, MI situation, which is whack, because that so neatly falls into the thematic material of the underfunding of poor minority communities that at play here. Not that it matters to the girls, they’re more interested in temporary tattoos and DIY ear piercings and learning their choreography.
I guess I just didn’t react well to being on the outside, which I get is probably a me problem more than a movie problem. It just works so well as a horror movie in some moments when Danny Bensi & Saunder Jurriaans’ score rises up with its aggressive hand claps and lilting clarinet that it feels so at odds with the characterisation of these leads who aren’t really that concerned by the whole deal.
It feels torn in too many directions, none getting the time that they deserve. A boxer taking up dancing, A horror film in which the characters mysteriously fall ill, a relationship movie about the dramas in a competitive dance troupe. These would all be dope movies, I think the problem came in trying to make all of them at once.