The Fits suffers a style seizure

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      Starring Royalty Hightower. Rating unavailable.

      In her feature-film debut, writer-director Anna Rose Holmer collars viewers right from the start, pulling them into a cloistered world it would be hard to know—or even remember—without such nicely shot assistance.

      That place is found within the walls of a mostly black Cincinnati middle school, centring on a wiry child, about 10 years old, called Toni, who’s played by compelling newcomer Royalty Hightower. Working out in the boxing gym where her elder brother (Da’Sean Minor) trains, Toni one day notices a room down the hall full of teenage girls, practising for some kind of dance project. Initially somewhat uncoordinated, Toni and another small fry (Alexis Neblett)—the only two with African-style hair—struggle to find their way into the rhythms.

      Meanwhile, a few older dancers have been having inexplicable seizures—the fits of the title, apparently. It’s unclear if this is a socially contagious phenomenon, a real medical condition, or a modern-dance variation on Baptist Rapture. Anyway, that’s pretty much it for story in the 72-minute feature, which puts far more emphasis on atmosphere than narrative, or character development, for that matter. Holmer, a former cameraperson, and her cowriters are notably uninterested in dialogue; what little conversation we overhear is stilted at best.

      The director remains more focused on cinematographer Paul Yee’s incessantly moving camera and its lens-flared physicality. She obviously comes from a place of deep affection for her subjects; for once, they’re portrayed as struggling for creative expression, not against poverty and violence.

      Unfortunately, Holmer has far less faith in her audience; the tale is overly aestheticized, with ponderously aggressive sound editing and self-consciously discordant music constantly reminding viewers just how Important Everything Is. There’s lots of talent here, but some of the girls have trouble breathing. So does the movie.