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Tilt (2018)
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by Jay Seaver

"Average Joe."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2017 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Brace yourself, world - we're in for a fair amount of "electing Donald Trump as President is a sign of something badly wrong with America" movies, and while we've brought this upon ourselves, I still think it's fair to hope for something a little more interesting than "Tilt". Writer/director Kasra Farahani seems to have a good idea of what he wants to get across and how, but (as will often be the case where wrestling with these themes is concerned) recognizing the issues does not necessarily mean being clear on what to do next.

Of course, to be fair, Joseph Burns (Joseph Cross) looks kind of frantic when we first see him, before he and wife Joanne (Alexia Rasmussen) return to Los Angeles from a Hawaii vacation and start seeing a lot of news coverage of the Trump campaign. Getting back to normal for him means working on his new documentary on how the so-called golden age of the 1950s was an illusion; she is working long shifts as a nurse because the hospital is understaffed, while also studying for the MCAT and a couple months pregnant. As the days pass, though, Joe is getting more erratic - he sees an elderly Japanese tourist everywhere, googles the name "Chusuke Hasegawa" incessantly, and going on walks later and later at night, all while seeming quite detached from the idea of becoming a father.

As the movie goes on, the pressure from Jo for Joe to get a more regular job, and as he resists and sometimes seems to self-sabotage, a certain clarity about the movie's themes emerges: Joe may say all the right liberal things about how wealth has concentrated at the top, but he is at heart still pretty much a white guy who feels entitled to whatever he wants, even if it means pursuing this documentary despite the schedule his wife will soon no longer be able to keep, or giving the African-American folks he might encounter in the street a wide berth, or feeling free to intimidate someone almost completely randomly. Farahani establishes this material nicely - an early moment where Joe seems to anticipate his wife hitting her head on a cabinet door, for instance is crystal-clear but also easily ignored, an early harbinger of just what lurks within him.

Joseph Cross gives a nicely non-twitchy performance as his namesake, balancing simple creepiness with a certain amount of horror during moments of self-awareness; he's nervous and guilty about his malevolence, not quite sure whether he's going to accept that this may be in him or not. He's countered nicely by Alexia Rasmussen as Joanne, who is witty and sensible and delightfully human in how she makes being genuinely in love with her husband, telling him to get it together, and feeling guilty about it feel like the same person on different days rather than just what the plot needs right now.

For all that Farahani seems to have a clear idea of what he wants to say and some real skill in doing so on film - he sets a lot of pivotal, tense scenes in the Burns' cramped kitchen and gives the city at night a very different character than daytime, with Lucas Putnam's score adding some creepiness. Unfortunately, it sometimes feels like adding ominous music to b-roll is the entirety of how Farahani and co-writer Jason O'Leary are going to move this forward; once they establish that Joe feels trapped and is capable of terrible things, what comes after hints at escalation but doesn't feel particularly attached to him, and crucial bits are kept off-screen, from what happened in Hawaii to where he is before the last couple of scenes. Things which seem like they should be important recur but never come to much.

There's more to "Tilt" than a lot of "mild-mannered guy has a particularly dark dark side" movies, but not quite enough to make for a great one. As much as it may often be good use of the horror toolset for looking at society, it isn't particularly thrilling, and just because you can see what the filmmakers are going for doesn't mean you feel it.

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originally posted: 07/16/17 00:25:24
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Kasra Farahani

Written by
  Kasra Farahani
  Jason O'Leary

  Joseph Cross
  Alexia Rasmussen

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