The Startling Beauty of THE FITS

by Elizabeth Stoddard

How much of yourself do you give up to fit in? In Anna Rose Holmer’s debut narrative feature, The Fits, pre-teen Toni (phenomenal newcomer Royalty Hightower) pauses her boxing training with her older brother to join the Lionesses dance troupe. Older girls instruct the younger beginners in choreography, and although Toni doesn’t immediately catch on, she befriends a couple girls on the team. But then something strange starts happening to the teen leaders of the troupe.

Watching the drama unfold, the viewer is as confounded and skeptical as Toni about what is causing the older girls to seize and thrash about. Is it the water at the rec center? Or is something less tangible?

While the viewer puzzles the cause, one becomes enraptured with director Holmer’s vision. Such clean, composed shots make up this work! The locations may be limited — most of the action is based at the rec center and surrounding area — but we are shown so many different angles and views that it never gets stale. The set design and costuming includes pops of gold among purples and greys. The gold is so ubiquitous that I wondered if there was a deeper thematic meaning to it… besides the dance team being named the Lionesses.

During my watching of The Fits, the French film 17 Girls came to mind. Both works are by female directors and consider themes of peer pressure among girls (in various forms). Amidst the obvious differences between the two projects: Holmer’s movie uses a predominantly black cast, and strikes a tone of the unexplainable fantastic.

As mesmerizing as it is mysterious, this movie about adolescence and dance moves as swiftly as a ballet. The tension of the drama is helped along by a sparse score which includes a creepy reed instrument solo and percussive hand claps. No matter my suspicions about the mystery, the closing moments left me with chills. Holmer’s film is the kind that reveals more upon each viewing and will likely inspire theories and many parking lot conversations afterwards. In this way, The Fits is a beautiful remedy to the common summer blockbuster.

The Fits is currently open in Los Angeles and New York. Austin Film Society will screen it July 22 & 24.

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