After the huge mainstream success of their 1989 album "The Real Thing" Faith No More sought a new musical direction from their previous works, what followed was not only a total rejection of much of the musical trends that had plagued the late and early 90's but one of the most transgressive and unrelenting albums that has ever been released by a mainstream artist, shocking executives, music critics and fans alike. While not as culturally impactful as say Nirvana's "Nevermind" or Pearl Jam's Ten, Faith No More's "Angel Dust" went on to be one of the most influential albums of its era and is still named dropped by artists today as one of their favorite albums and cemented their legacy of "a band's band" even if it is more than likely what started their somewhat contentious relationship with both press and executives. Seeing Titane in theaters I can't help but to think back on the shock that Warner Music execs in 1992 must have felt listening to the "Angel Dust" demos and being lulled into a false of security by the opening riff of a song like"Land of Sunshine" only to seconds later hear Mike Patton's maniacal laughter and distorted circus music kick in where nasally rhymes and funk metal grooves would have been just an album ago. I'd like to imagine that feelings of those executives weren't too dissimilar to the shock and awe that I saw in the faces of fellow theater patrons who turned to their wives and girlfriends with a look of bemusement that read along the lines of "Well I wasn't expecting that either". I'd like to imagine that those same executives excused themselves to the restroom after sitting in on a recording session and had a conversation not too dissimilar to the one I observed in the rest room before leaving the theater as those same guys with the befuddled looks on their face were now trying to decipher the chaos that was displayed on the screen for nearly two hours "Man I just didn't get why she was a killer". I very much came into Titane expecting another "Real Thing" and Julia Ducournau's follow up to her feature debut Raw to simply be Raw 2 in everything but name. When the film opened with a car crash similar to Raw I feared that my worst suspicions would be true and I'd have to disown yet another promising horror director for taking the easy route, however just as with the opening riff to "Land of Sunshine" the car crash was merely a false sense of security for the madness to come. When I say that Titane is my film of the year and Ducournau my favorite director currently in film it is said with the sincerity of the little girl Alexia hugging her family's car after her accident. Titane is a body horror masterpiece deserving of its reputation and I believe in time will be mentioned amongst the best films of the decade upon its conclusion. If you're looking for an easy watch Titane is not the film for you but if you accept it as the unrelenting, unapologetic, uncompromising film it is then it will challenge your horror conventions at every turn and leave you thoroughly speechless.
As I alluded to in the intro Titane was quite the theater experience, my first since before the pandemic began, perhaps fueled on by nervousness or excitement the clinical and surgical nature of Titane's intro made my stomach churn, I was so uncomfortable I couldn't sit straight in my seat and at one point thought I was legitimately going to be sick. Whereas most would look at such an experience overwhelmingly negative, I, who am most certainly desensitized to what the vast majority of horror films have to offer was pleasantly surprised that Titane could elicit such a response from me. I have to give full credit to the sound design present in the film as moments such as Alexia biting her lover's nipple piercing or the impact of her breaking her nose on the edge of a sink were greatly intensified and complemented Ducournau's unique brand of body horror to a T, the sound of Titane is a dense as the story it represents. It may seem after an intro as dense as the first paragraph of this review that I am beating around the bush by pointing this out but I really do believe that whilst Titane is widely available to stream, the theater helped to exemplify what makes Titane such a great film in the first place. Titane is not your traditional gripping horror narrative of a sympathetic character who has to overcome a horrific nightmare or survive the attacks of crazed inhuman killer. Nor is it the tale of a character slowly degenerating into that of a savage beast a la the works of David Cronenberg. It is not the tale of a stranger being welcomed into the abode of a caring family and corrupting the household or the examination of an unrepentant killer like Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer or American Psycho. Instead Titane serves to examine these many horror cliches by spinning them deep into its narrative and flipping many of them on their respective heads, holding them upside down as if they were the horror equivalent of a Dairy Queen Blizzard. In Titane Docournau asks many questions of her audience and wisely answers few to none, "What if an inhumane and sexually perverse character was forced to become human again whilst having their sexuality cloistered?", "What is masculinity and how close is heteronormativity to homoeroticism?" "How prepared are we for the various transitions of life?" These questions are presented in a flamboyant and at times uncompromising fashion over the course of its runtime. While this package will undoubtedly turn some off and leave some with the criticism that Titane exists as nothing more than an empty husk of horror nostalgia loosely tied together by glorified music videos and visual splendor, I would reserve such a criticism for several other recent offerings in film. There is a big difference between how Titane uses horror cliches and how films like Halloween Kills and Malignant use them. Those films both very much embrace and at times rely on horror conventions as a crutch to make their narratives work, the few times that they do try to subvert and tap into greater social commentary it is at the sacrifice and detriment of its narrative and makes the characters of the film look outright dumb or stray the narrative into such an idiotic direction in service of a swerve. The killing sequences towards the end of both Malignant and Halloween Kills or as I call it Halloween Placates were easily amongst the most drawn out and self indulgent I've seen out of any film this year and considering that I'm reviewing a French arthouse film, that says a lot. It is maddening to me that there was such a debate amongst horror fans over those two corporate pieces of garbage whilst the conversation around a film like Titane was seemingly mute. The musical sequences in Titane were very much in service to the narrative and were more along the lines Edgar Wright and than they were Zach Snyder, it is very much there for a reason and helped to display the odd bond between Alexia and her adoptive father Vincent (More on that later). Now at long last onto the plot.
On the surface Titane is a film about a killer who unwittingly entraps herself in the care of an overbearing father after assuming the identity of his missing son while she battles the side effects of an untimely and unwanted pregnancy. What that doesn't describe is the wild ride to get to said point, sex with a car, nose breaking, motor oil lactation, steroid abuse and a whole mess of homoerotic dance sequences are just a few of the highlights along Titane's insane journey. The various transformations of Alexia in Titane are extremely emblematic of Ducournau's filmography so far, Titane is a film about transitions and whilst some of those will be very obvious to the viewer upon your first, many I feel will become more apparent upon subsequent viewings and as the film is further discussed as the years go on. To fully discuss the plot and themes of Titane I'd probably need to write an article in it of itself. For as wild and out there Titane is, there is a strange human element to the absurdity, seeing the odd father son dynamic between Alexia and her adoptive father Vincent at times can border on being heartwarming. While Vincent is very much a controlling father, he is suffering from his own form of entrapment, Vincent is a man who is stuck in the denial stage of grief and as a result tries to turn Alexia to the idealized version of his estranged son while suffering from the effects of chronic steroid abuse and old age. His arc of becoming a more understanding father is the perfect foil for Alexia and one of the more endearing moments shared between the two is a scene in which he teaches her CPR during an emergency call, it is one of very few moments of levity provided by the film, which for as uncompromising as it can be at times can be oddly funny. While some have criticized the tonal shifts of Titane, it is of my opinion that much like the distortion on a Cows record everything in Titane is intentional and the ends certainly are justified by the means. I will not delve into the plot any further at this time for that very reason. Titane is an amazing film and is deserving of any accolades it receives, watching it is an experience, whether you view that as a positive is certainly up to you and all I can say is it's at least worth a watch, the ending is gonna stick with you either way. I very much look forward to seeing what Julia Ducournau has to offer next and there is so few current directors going today that I can heap as high a praise for than that.
Thanks for reading guys the next two reviews will be two of my holiday favorites Scrooge 1971, followed by Tokyo Godfathers and I will assemble a best of 2021 list sometime before the year ends. Cheers everyone!