The human mind is interesting, especially when it comes to mass hysteria. The shared experience of imaginary threats that develop into physical convulsions, and fainting is unusual and has happened for centuries. Often seen in the Salem Witch Trials, there have been 31 different periods of this phenomenon that range through different genders, ages, and religious sects and could be anything from biting to laughter.
Inspired by such strange occurrences as the Dancing Plague (where Romans danced for days and days until they died) and the 1965 Blackburn epidemic, brand new independent film The Fits uses mass hysteria to explore femininity and friendship in pre-teen girls.
Directed by Anna Rose Holmer, who earned the Someone to Watch award at the Independent Spirit Award with this film, The Fits revolves around a young tomboy named Toni who spends her time boxing with her older brother. Entranced by the school’s dancing troupe, she offers to join the incredible talents. However, surrounded within the clique, she struggles to be accepted and her further attempts to get involved with the crowd starts to isolate her from her previous sporting teammates. When the girls are stricken by a mysterious convulsing illness, causing unexpected seizures and fainting spells, Toni is further pushed to find acceptance.
Anna Rose Holmer’s command of the atmosphere in this daring and, ironically, confident debut feature is spectacular. The imposing moments of silence that allow lead actress Royalty Hightower to brood and grow within the quiet of her character showcase the capabilities of the writer, producer, and director. At only 72 minutes run time, The Fits terrifically bellows with adolescent confusions and a struggle to ebb along with the popularity flow. Holmer’s task of re-producing mass hysteria for the big screen and fitting it into a captivating coming of age story works marvellously well. With an eye for great shots that encompasses the stirring emotions within Toni, The Fits is an established and riveting drama.
Imbued with skill beyond her years, Hightower is a capable lead. Her quiet ferociousness and her beguiling acting skill immerses you into this story of fitting in. The equanimity that she displays with her curiosity whilst also being able to convey a temper, a wit, and an individuality. Her tranquil performance is reminiscent of Alex Hibbert in Academy Award winning Moonlight: Both displaying emotion and growth without using dialogue as a crutch.
Though some will pull similarities between The Fits and Carol Morley’s The Falling – after all, both deal with girls overcome by a spree of fainting with no apparent causation – the two films are both separate in their tone and setting. Whilst the period drama of the latter is almost bewitching in it’s magical realism, Holmer’s former is a city based modernised look at the hysteria. They both, however, deal with female childhood as it blooms into pubescence and then adulthood in manners that are authentic and strikingly so.
With The Fits being both poetic and powerful, Holmer, indeed has promise as a director to watch.
The Fits is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now!