It is rare to see a film in which each sound feels so carefully produced. In the first few seconds of The Fits, we hear but a whisper – a whisper which later becomes a voice. There is little dialogue here, most of which comes from secondary characters, and not the near-silent protagonist. The result is that her voice, when it does speak, echoes through the building and reverberates off the walls.
Rhythm is a key component of this film. Music, sometimes non-diagetic, compels our heroine Toni to dance – quite badly, each limb spasming out of control, her body exploding in every direction but without form. Her movements mimic the real seizures that play out over and over again, somehow always in the corner of the frame, far away. Toni isn’t afraid of the eponymous epidemic sweeping across her community centre; after all, she doesn’t behave like the other girls. There’s a distinctly masculine energy surrounding her, from her enjoyment of boxing with her older brother to the subtle moment she expresses disinterest at being told to pose with hands on hips. She isn’t scared, or maybe she is. But what of? This film has no clear villain, no obvious threat.
The intriguing thing about The Fits is the suggestion that the seizures are not out of the girl’s control. They somehow become a rite of passage, a test of one’s ability to belong to the selective clique of womanhood. Without this hint, the film would be an uncomplicated thriller; with it, the film treads a delicate line between ambiguity and reveal. The final moment of surrender is breathtaking and resonant. This is a film that hits every beat, and throws a few punches in along the way; a tale that has to be seen (and heard) to be believed.