Before the answer becomes abundantly clear partway through the film, there are a couple different interpretations of what the title of The Fits could mean. First, it could relate to how the story opens on the main character training at the gym, and that the whole movie takes place in or around a local community center. Then, it could relate to how the main character is constantly surrounded by people much older than her, and that it’s hard to fit in. But finally, the movie settles on something much more sinister…
Toni (Royalty Hightower) is 11 years old and seems to spend all of her time training in the boxing gym with her brother and helping him clean the community center afterwards. One day, she notices a drill team practicing, and decides to join the team. However, after a short while, the captains of the team start experiencing strange seizures. Soon, these seizures spread down the team, in unique forms.
While the story encompasses quite a few characters, the camera makes it quite clear who the main character is. It follows Toni relentlessly, but seems to be lending a caring ear towards her, rather than a voyeuristic eye. A large part of the reason for this is the absolute magnetism of Royalty Hightower’s performance. At such a young age, she seems like such a pro, owning her time on screen more effectively than most veterans. With her at the center of the film, her character seems to almost be working in conjunction with the camera, rather than simply have it follow her. This is Hightower’s debut feature, and she shows an incredible amount of promise. With just small and simple movements, it becomes eminently clear what her character is thinking and feeling. Keep your eye on her, if given the right opportunities, she’s going to do some amazing things.
The same could be said of the film’s director, Anna Rose Holmer. The choices that she makes throughout are supremely confident, and its absolutely shocking to note that this is her debut narrative feature film. Every moment of the movie seems to be under complete control, and there is no way that this was an easy film to make. It should be fascinating to see what she does next, hopefully with a little more money to throw around.
This is all the more impressive when taken into account that The Fits doesn’t really identify with any one particular genre. The story arc involves a certain coming-of-age appeal, but then the actual content is pretty horrific. Yet somehow, this clash of genres never seems to create a problem with the film. This movie is able to have it all, I suppose.
The Fits is unconventional in just about every way. The runtime is short (a succinct 72 minutes), the dialogue is sparse (Toni spends most of the film in silence or listening to others) and the story is a mixture of naturalism and allegory (not to mention that the movie is determined to keep the true meaning a mystery). Yet despite all of this, the movie makes for a fascinating character study. One that is haunting and unforgettable. The film creates a sort of meditative trance, very rarely broken, that engages the audience with the narrative while leaving them with some fascinating insight in the end. Compared to the majority of mainstream movies that copy the same narrative structure over and over, this is a breath of fresh air. The Fits provides hope that there is still new ground to break in the art form, and that a movie doesn’t need to fit in in order to succeed.