The Fits, the 2015 feature debut by American director Anna Rose Holmer, is a wholly singular experience that combines realism and the surreal to beautifully capture the transitional period of adolescence.
From the first scene, we are plunged into the intimate subjectivity of Toni (played by the astonishing Royalty Hightower), a girl on the cusp of adolescence. By day, she practices boxing with her brother at a recreational centre. Also practicing there are a tightly knit dance troupe, whose activities capture Toni’s curiosity. Eager to find acceptance within their collective, Toni joins the group, initially struggling to replicate the fluid movements of the dance routines.
When mysterious fits begin to possess the girls, sending some into frenzied thrashing and others into choking, peripheral investigations into the possible cause uncover no answers. Holmer cultivates a unique and unsettling atmosphere achieved through a boldly experimental use of sound; oscillating between hazy beats heard from a distance and bursts of crisp clarity. Eerie clarinets whisper and wail, and clapping beats become near-indistinguishable from diegetic sound.
By focusing almost entirely on interactions within the dance group, Holmer gives precedence to voices routinely dismissed as shallow and valueless in our culture: the gossip of young women. By isolating their voices in the soundscape, Holmer re-frames their hushed murmurings as something worth listening to, carving out a space for femininity to claim. Spotlighted too are feminine rituals of gender: temporary floral tattoos, nail polish, and pierced ears.
The Fits dedicates itself entirely to communicating the subjectivity of a young black girl and representing adolescence from her perspective, yet it also feels equally poignant to someone ethnically and geographically distant from her. Toni’s struggles between conformity and deviance are something I connect with on a visceral level, as I too felt my desire to be accepted clash with my personal sense of identity during adolescence, and as an adult I still struggle to initiate myself into the feminine mode of expression externally ascribed to me.
The Fits investigates conflicts emblematic of adolescence in an intuitive and minimalist way, and through a distinctly female lens. Holmer traverses these concerns with few words; instead, her favoured language of sound, movement and image is hugely affecting.