Review: ‘Titane’ (head like a hole)

The spree-murder motor-head body-horror film of the year.

After an traffic accident leaves her with a titanium plate in her head as a little girl, the adult Alexia (Agatha Rousselle) makes a living as a writhing hood ornament, showcasing custom cars and entertaining enthusiasts. There’s hell to pay when an overexcited fan gets too friendly, but an unusual close encounter with her dance partner takes Alexia’s mind off the incident. When a more dire situation calls for Alexia to disguise herself to avoid authorities, a man named Vincent (Vincent Lindon) mistakes her for his missing son lost a decade earlier… and forbids anyone to correct him on this. As an aging man in a position of authority determined to project strength to his subordinates, the remainder of the film builds to dealing with every impending revelation… and all that that implies.

Kudos to Julia Ducournau for directing and co-writing the kind of film too often relegated to the boy’s club. There’s so much to unpack in this fantastic idea that willing viewers will have to just go with it, not unlike the standard M. Night Shyamalan moment when audiences either buy into the premise or outright reject it. Still, body horror as a sub-genre of the scary movie set is an acquired taste, even beyond so-called “torture porn” cinema. After the credits roll, can viewers absorb the preceding for the thought-provoking visuals intended, or was the final revelation too over-the-top to have been bothered with at all?

Like the tandem Rodriguez/Tarantino flick Grindhouse, there are two different stories herein with the main character acting as a go-between. After the first part focused on our protagonist and body count, the second half abruptly shifts into a mistaken identity situation without much explanation. The first hour’s single-imported plot point predictably grows like a ticking time bomb — one ignored whenever anything else is happening — before a Chronenberg-ish climax mercifully invites the credits to roll. While the practical and special effects are clever enough, the near-parody revelations undermine the twisted potential of the concept, leaving too little explanation or even suggestion to fill the gaping plot holes.

There are two things that come to mind when thinking how this could have been made to work better. One would be establishing that what’s happening isn’t an isolated issue, employing a bit of world-building to suggest what appears as unusual could fast become the norm; this served other low-budget fare like Benny Loves You, revealing a presumed isolated incident is in truth a kind of awakening. The second is shoring up the jarring segue into the second story completely missing from the first part, smoothing over the POV shift with a hint the opening scene had something to do with it, a coming-full-circle revelation. Finally, if you insist upon going all in, please deliver the full Monty; it’s a visual medium, after all, and viewers righteously demand their Brundlefly, thank-you-very-much.

Script and plot be damned, the actors were willing to “go there” and the effects work is worth a viewing to hardcore cinephiles, if only to digest the possibilities. For everyone else, it feels at best like two incomplete first-draft scripts hastily stitched together… or a bad idea that even throwing a studio-sized budget at it couldn’t save.

Titane is rated R for strong violence and disturbing material, graphic nudity, sexual content, language, and a more creative definition for “fluid exchange.”

One skull recommendation out of four

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