‘Titane’ creeps under your skin to warm your heart

A woman lies on a car with red hot flames. She is wearing fishnet stockings and a golden bikini.

Agatha Rousselle stars in “Titane” as Alexia, a woman with a titanium plate placed in her head. (Photo courtesy of Carole Bethuel)

Warning: The following review contains spoilers.

We all date shit people. But sometimes those shit people will show you Julia Ducournau movies on the fifth date, and you’ll forever be in a debt of gratitude.

Ducournau is a visionary, to say the absolute least. Her filmmaking knows no limit or standard. She melts genre and boundaries for any director or writer. 

Her feature debut, “Raw” (2016), is one of the best thrillers I’ve seen. The plot is engaging and keeps you guessing, so I could not wait to see her most recent work, “Titane.”

The movie begins with “Wayfaring Stranger” by 16 Horsepower playing. A young version of our leading protagonist, Alexia, excessively kicks her father’s car seat, leading the car to swerve and crash. 

The body horror begins quickly when we are shown a bloody surgery of the young Alexia. She receives a metal plate implant in her head. As she exits the hospital, she caresses the car and kisses it before getting inside. 

Smash cut to a bright neon car show. Alexia, now an adult played by Agathe Rousselle, enters. She smoothly pins her hair up with a single knitting needle-style hair pin. 

She effortlessly swipes on a blood red lipstick and peels off her outerwear to reveal herself in gold spandex and bright yellow fishnets. 

She hops onto a car and begins to dance — slow and sultry. She is beloved by the audience, and it’s clear she is a talent. The way she moves is captivating. 

After her performance concludes, she begins to sign autographs.

I noticed there was a pause in the body horror and I wondered how Ducournau would shock us next; five minutes later, my stomach turned inside out as Alexia showers next to a new dancer, Justine, who is played by Garance Marillier, the star of “Raw.”

Alexia’s hair becomes stuck in Justine’s nipple piercing. To say it was agonizing to watch is an understatement, she pulls her matted hair to no avail until Justine turns and Alexia rips it out — and I knew then we were back in Ducournau’s palm.

Alexia is followed out of the car show by a fan who wants her autograph. When he forces himself upon her, in what is a clearly swift and rehearsed move, she swipes out her hair pin and stabs it into his ear. 

The camera closes on the man’s face as he convulses and white pus pours out of his mouth. After it’s clear he is beyond dead, Alexia rolls her eyes, as if to say, “not this again.” 

She returns to the car show to shower again, but is disrupted when she hears a growl coming from the floor. 

With Alexia nude and dripping, her feet smack the empty floor until the car illuminates her body. She is inside the car as it begins to jolt, the scene implying intercourse with the automobile.

She goes to watch the news and the audience learns that she is a serial killer who has been on a murder rampage throughout the south of France. 

Now is where Ducouranu’s directing and writing truly shine. When watching her films you may be thinking, “How could it possibly get worse?” But it always does. 

In the midst of hooking up with the darling and sweet Justine, Alexia begins to gnaw on her nipple piercing. The sound is enough to make anyone with a soft stomach feel ill. Alexia runs away after Justine expresses anger about the pain. 

Each squelsh of flesh or ripping of cartilage is vomit-inducingly excellent, which is a nod to the talent of the sound team. 

Alexia doubles over and throws up, and Justine gives her a pregnancy test. It is revealed Alexia is pregnant.

Justine and Alexia begin to hook up again until, with another swift swipe of the hairpin, Justine meets the same fate. Alexia makes her way through Justine’s roommates murdering all but one. 

She curses and returns home in bloody puss and bile stained clothes; she sets fire to the clothing but as the fire grows out of control, she watches with wonder. 

Enthralled by the flame, she pauses before deciding her next move. She runs into her home and locks her parents inside. 

The second act is where most films go to die, and “Titane” does falter here. I continued to be mesmerized by the story, but the main tension is so stressful you stay engaged. 

Alexia hitchhikes her way to town and finds a train station where she decides to take on the identity of a missing boy, Adrien. 

She binds her pregnant body and shaves her head. But she knows she will need more, so she bashes her head into the sink.

We are now introduced to Adrien’s father Vincent, portrayed by Vincent Lindon. He is clearly a broken man who hopes reconnecting with his son will fill the void in his life. 

Now the main tension of the second act is introduced: Will Alexia’s lie be uncovered? 

He rescues Alexia and takes her under his wing. Their relationship is cold at first. Vincent is a complicated man, and it is soon shown that he is using steroids to maintain his fitness as a fire chief. 

Alexia lives as a mute Adrien, abusing Vincent’s love. Her body is now raw from the binding. Ducournau creates empathy within the audience for her antihero, Alexia, and sympathy for the flawed but good Vincent. 

The visuals remain hypnotic with lighting used to elevate the scenes.

I found myself wanting Alexia to reveal herself to Vincent because it’s the age-old story a parent or guardian’s love that is transferable within film. 

In a tender moment, Alexia returns home to find Vincent in a comatose state on the bathroom floor. She pulls out her hairpin but fails to perform the deed. Alexia shifts and even though she is still a serial killer abusing an old man’s love, the audience is rooted in her story. We want her to change. 

The goal of making a successful film is to have the audience bond with your plot. Ducournau executes this flawlessly. 

I was aghast; I was rooting for the murderous Alexia. The movie continues with Adrien and Vincent growing close. They play the role of parent and child to the point of reality. 

Vincent sees Alexia’s naked, pregnant and tattered figure.  Despite that, he promises to continue caring for her. 

In this moment, the serial-killer-car-sex-having main character could recieve a moment of heartwarming joy from the audience, transitioning the film’s brutal body horror to a heartwarming story of unconditional love. 

The body horror continues as Alexia’s stomach rips to reveal a metal skeleton under her skin. Instead of blood, her wounds seep thick black oil. 

I was horrified, mystified and feeling warm and fuzzies all at once.  I was beyond enthralled. Ducournau’s execution of her own script with her thoughtful and detail-oriented directing is perfection. 

She shys away from nothing. The movie showcases some of the most brutal deaths I have ever witnessed on screen — Every moment is choreographed and oozes cinema. 

Each puff of a cigarette is just as much art as each brain-impaling murder. 

Talk about crying, screaming and throwing up — the sound design in this film will have you doing all three. Welcome to the new definition of metalhead. 

Ducournau redefines what it means to create and properly execute a horror film. Using the word “subvert” would be an insult to her work. Her grace when displaying pain and obscene amounts of gore cannot continue to fly under the radar. 

“Titane” is out in theaters now.