2021, R, 104 min. Directed by Julia Ducournau. Starring Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon, Nathalie Boyer, Garance Marillier.

REVIEWED By Jenny Nulf, Fri., Oct. 1, 2021

Titane is a dance. Julia Ducournau’s follow-up to her engrossing debut Raw is a flashy, traumatic body horror explosion that is just as gnarly as her first film.

The dance in Titane flows between two characters: Alexia (newcomer Rousselle) and Vincent (veteran Lindon from The Apparition, The School of Flesh), two dreadful, lonely souls who have experienced tragedies in different ways. Alexia is a narcissistic serial killer, a sociopath who slashes anyone with her hair needle, whereas Vincent is a firefighter and father who lost his son. They need each other to live and to die, their needs carnal and vicious.

Titane is bathed in macabre, uncomfortable imagery. The spiraling scar above Alexia’s ear, the bruises on Vincent’s butt from steroid abuse, Alexia’s exploringly uncomfortable pregnant belly are all images designed to unnerve and disturb. Alexia’s pregnancy is what drives the film. Not pregnant by choice, Alexia graphically attempts a self-abortion in the beginning of the film, using the same method of choice for her serial murders: the pointed needle that tightly coils her hair. But like many horror movies before Titane, Alexia’s pregnancy is otherworldly. Thick, black oil leaks down her thighs and out of her nipples, but the baby is there to stay: a woman’s worst nightmare, giving your body over to an unwanted pregnancy. Alexia claws at her belly, scratching away her skin to reveal metal underneath. Her body is now a machine, all body autonomy lost (she did, after all, get impregnated by having sex with a car).

There is nothing more horrifying than knowing your body is not meant for you anymore. With Titane, Ducournau channels David Cronenberg’s The Brood, in both imagery and in themes. Toxic masculinity is a haunting presence throughout the film, from Alexia’s encounter with a possessive and obsessed fan after her car show, to a scene where Alexia (disguised as a boy) hops on a bus and watches a group of men terrorize a woman just wanting to go home. Large, buff firefighters dance to thumping music, arms flailing and heads swishing back and forth to the beat. The film permeates with the dread women feel when walking home alone at night, that feeling of vulnerability. It’s a creeping, sinister anxiety that is so hard to replicate, but Ducournau taps into it with grace.

In both Titane and Raw, Ducournau plays with reflection. In Raw, Garance Marillier (who also plays a minor role in Titane) dances in front of a mirror in her dorm room to loud rap music, gazing ravenously at her own reflection, salivating from her own image. In Titane, Alexia is constantly looking in mirrors, gazing upon her own body like it’s a foreign object to her. She tries on a dress that belonged to Vincent’s wife, a soft, yellow, floral print that is the opposite of her disposition. The mirror does not often represent the one gazing into it, but rather represents a longing for femininity.

Titane is a truly harrowing experience, if you’re willing to let go behind the wheel. It’s a ghastly, uncomfortable film, led by gross characters who deserve rock bottom. But there’s something so titillating and bold about Ducournau’s exploration of bottom-feeders, who are gods in their secular worlds, giving birth to the monsters to come.

A version of this review ran as part of our Fantastic Fest coverage.

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Titane, Julia Ducournau, Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon, Nathalie Boyer, Garance Marillier

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