Julia Ducournau left a scar on many film audiences with Raw – one of the most assured feature-length debuts in recent history and one that has left an indelible impact on the horror scene. Following that intense coming-of-age story comes Titane, a movie that defines Ducournau as one of the greatest directors working in genre film today. Louder than an engine and moving to its own delirious rhythm, Titane is an oil-soaked masterpiece that defies physical and cinematic boundaries to craft something so extreme and somehow maintaining pockets of compassion between every moment of insanity.
At a young age, Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) was in a car accident that resulted in a titanium metal plate being grafted onto her skull. Since then, her affinity with vehicles has only heightened, performing provocative dance routines at auto shows and becoming a serial killer that moves from 0 to 100 before her victims even suspect it. One night she gets impregnated by a car and things only escalate from there as she ends up on the lam, attempting to figure out the changes going on with her body while also trying to maintain anonymity within society.
Where Raw saw Ducournau subtly playing with the coming-of-age template in a horror setting, Titane uses body horror, violence, and sexuality to overtly poke at gender norms and repressed desires. At the heart of it all is Rousselle who defines Titane with her electrifying, dedicated performance that isn’t afraid to veer into the squeamish and grotesque. It’s one of the most committed performances, reminiscent of the equally intense Isabelle Adjani in 1981’s Possession – a film that also moves between emotional storytelling and bouts of disturbing hysteria.
From the beginning, Titane establishes itself as a movie that will not let up on the gas pedal, but it eventually swerves into a lower gear, punctuating itself with moments of frenzy. The relationship that forms between Alexia and Vincent (Vincent Lindon) – a single father whose son has been missing for over a decade – is a volatile one that is defined by the two characters being equally broken in their own ways. Out of it comes a strange, but no less emotional exploration of parenting, body positivity, and gender fluidity. Though their whole relationship is on the brink of disintegration, there’s a commitment between them and mutual empathy that powers some of the most intimate moments of Titane.
There’s plenty to unpack from the way in which Alexia’s body is twisted and contorted both horrifyingly and out of necessity. The entirety of the film is watching a transformation take place and reckoning with those changes. Even in its most over-the-top moments, Titane manages to be both mesmerizing and extremely painful to watch: it embodies the “can’t look away”-style of filmmaking, but there’s a thematic undercurrent that also designates every gruesome scene just as vital as the quieter beats.
More surprising than anything is how funny Titane can be even with its frequent moments that are absurd on paper being delivered with an emotional weight that removes the humor of the moment. Ducournau switches gears so many times both narratively and tonally that it shouldn’t work. Long scenes of dancing or intimate moments of compassion brought to a screeching halt are all par for the course, imbuing the film with so many memorable moments that tie directly into Titane’s overall plotting.
Above all else, Titane refuses to feel known – working in its favor is both the feverish pacing and the violent transformation into the unknown. There is rarely a moment that feels predictable, making Ducournau’s latest an assault on the senses that can’t be pinned down. Instead, she’s created a ride like no other. From the ending shot of the opening scene to the narrative and physical journey Alexia goes on, Titane is a wild experience and one of the most human films of the year.