September draws to a close, and we find ourselves on the precipice of what leading meteorologists and cultural institutions alike refer to as… spooky season.
The temperatures finally drop, darkness catches up with us earlier everyday, and Ragtag’s showtimes run later into the night. With these natural phenomena come films a bit more… wicked. Chief among them this year is Julia Ducournau’s Titane.
2021’s Palme d’Or winner at Cannes marks not just the second-ever win for a female director (Jane Campion took the first in 1993 for The Piano), but also the first body-horror to take one of cinema’s most distinct honors.
So, for the uninitiated, what is body-horror? Somewhere between the Gothic literature of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein and Crononberg’s The Fly, critic Philip Brophy casually coined the term in 1983. Film scholar Linda Williams defined it precisely; mapping it on a continuum of what she calls “excess”—the degree to which audience sensations mimic what is seen on screen—alongside pornography and classical melodrama. Melodramas mirror sympathy, pornography arousal, but body-horror grants the visceral loss of control of our own bodies—pushing their limits, their transformative capabilities, and their violent distortions.
In more clinical terms: expect to get the willies.
That all said, while Titane has been dubbed “the most shocking film of 2021,” Ducournau is no mere shock jockey. Her 2016 cannibal-coming-of-age tale, Raw, is an excellent indicator of her bold approach to spinning ultimately tender stories. Every repulsion mirrored on screen is an act of endearment, after all. So, as I’ve taken a blood oath to divulge as little about Titane’s plot as possible, trust me that this fiery automobile-ad-human mystery also manages to be one of the more sincerely heartwarming tributes to parenting and family.