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TIFF Review: ‘Titane’ Takes Body Horror to Fast and Furious Extremes

October 4, 2021Ben MK

The term "body horror" has been used to describe everything from Seth Brundle's grotesque transformation into a human-fly hybrid in David Cronenberg's The Fly to mad doctor Josef Heiter's attempt to surgically conjoin three unwitting victims in Tom Six's The Human Centipede. In her followup to her 2016 feature debut, Raw, however, writer-director Julia Ducournau gives audiences a body horror tale unlike anything the genre has ever seen, mixing automobile fetishism with a narrative about a gender-bending serial killer to create one of the most unique and disturbing films in recent memory.

Set somewhere in the south of France, the story revolves around Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), a 30-something-year-old woman who works as an exotic dancer at car shows, but whose feminine wiles belie a dark secret. You see, Alexia — who has a titanium plate affixed to her skull due to a car accident she and her father were in when she was a child — is essentially the female equivalent of Christian Bale's character, Patrick Bateman, in American Psycho. And when her latest string of murders puts her dangerously close to being apprehended by the authorities, she takes on the identity of a missing young man named Adrien and goes on the run, moving in with Adrien's firefighter captain father, Vincent (Vincent Lindon) — though not before engaging in carnal relations with and being impregnated by a vintage Cadillac that’s been tricked out in more ways than one.

Visually uncompromising and thematically unsettling, the result proves just as difficult to watch as you might imagine. Yet, despite the intense and graphic nature of the subject matter, viewers will find it equally difficult to direct their eyes away from Rousselle's hypnotic performance. Needless to say, Titane is by no means a film to be taken lightly, nor is it one that can possibly garner any kind of consensus among the general moviegoing public. You'll just have to see it and judge for yourself — if you can stomach it.

Titane screens under the Midnight Madness programme at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival. Its runtime is 1 hr. 48 min.

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