Horrible, tense and artistically strained make for an incredible trilogy of intense and interesting moments within Julia Ducournau’s feature Titane. After the cannibalistic controversy of the previous Ducournau feature, Raw, there was only so much more this director could seemingly throw at an audience. How wrong audiences were to believe that. Titane is remarkably disgusting for all the right reasons. It is the body horror brilliant effectively showcased by the greats of the genre, but mixed with a thick and contemporary storyline. David Cronenberg and John Carpenter may have offered that in their heyday, but the disturbing limitations of Ducournau’s horrors in the face of a gripping story is a marvellous display of her and her characters’ desires.
It may be too much for some audiences. Titane certainly does not know when to draw the line between believably disturbing horror and the ascent into the ethereal, blinding strangeness of it all. Those Cronenberg comparisons flicker through not so much for the terror they exude but for the comparisons that can be made to Crash. Beyond that body horror necessity, there is a defiant look at being comfortable in your own skin, despite the murderous intent of the leading character and all the strange tensions that come with it. Ducournau, like with Raw, has crafted a strange film that will appeal to those that can suspend their disbelief and go along with the wild ride at hand. Agatha Rousselle’s leading performance is a perplexing one, but one that decries the usual protagonist charms with a distant and cold character.
Reassuring it is to see Ducournau reject the norms of heroic leading characters, there is a case to be made for the over-sexualisation of them. It happened in Raw, sex was used as a provocative tool rather than a reliant narrative construct. For Titane, it works because of how shocking it is. For those in the know, those Crash comparisons will linger on the mind and provide disturbing recollections of the James Spader horrors. Titane however focuses more on sex as a tool to its hyperviolence and the results are stunning. Tensions rise and fall, the regularity of violence in the life of Alexia (Agathe Rouselle) is a necessity that provides variety for Ducournau’s direction. What marks it as most stunning of all is the implementation of so many technical effects. The music rises and falls, the camera creates an invariably strong sense of power and conflict. Most of that happens thanks to smart framing devices and excellence in front of and behind the camera.
Despite bagging a Palme D’or, Titane will never escape its body horror frankness. Its endless possibilities will always be tied to the gory kills and squeal-inducing special effects, a remarkably engaging sight to see, especially when considering the lacklustre horror features on display elsewhere. Ducournau still feels like an unsung hero of the genre. Perhaps it is because she only has two features to boast her skills with. They are two great films though. Titane is on that same level of frightful horror and narratively twisted understanding as Raw, with the added inspiration of an always-experimenting director.