'Tilt' Review [2017 Fantasia Film Festival]

It's barely half a year into the trump presidency, and we're all already sick about hearing about the giant orange menace in The White House. But while TV and the internet has been all about trump for the better part of two years now, the cycle in which film operates hasn't allowed trumpism to yet infect the big screen. The deluge of political content on television has made the prospect of it hitting film much less appealing. I don't know anyone who is really excited for the first post-trump movie, but it seems as if the makers of Tilt (screened at the 2017 Fantasia Film Festival) didn't get the message.

Any synopsis you read about the film will use its status as one of the first post-trump films as a selling point, but leaving the theater, you're not only left wondering if the film really actually had anything to do with trump, but what stance it would be making if it did. While it offers the basis for an interesting character study and elements which could yield a tense horror-thriller, the sum of its parts are a shambolic mess. Tilt is as confused about all this trump stuff as the rest of us, and that really comes through on the screen, and not in a good way.

The film follows a struggling documentary filmmaker Joseph (Joseph Cross) who becomes increasingly obsessed with his own liberalism and the propagandistic nature of the military-industrial complex, as he works on his next feature documentary on that subject. All the while, his behaviour becomes increasingly erratic as we find out he may have killed a man while on vacation in Hawaii, and he begins to do odd things while on late night walks around his home in New York City, as his pregnant wife Joanna (Alexia Rasmussen) slowly begins to notice that something may be wrong with her husband.

While I and many others may be fed up with trump and all the baggage he carries with him, that really isn't the problem with Tilt. In fact, as you may have noticed, it doesn't even really have anything to do with the plot of the movie, yet in several instances, the filmmaker (Kasra Farahani, an art director on many blockbusters before himself sitting in the big chari) insists on inserting footage of trump at primary debates while the characters of the film discuss and dissect his words, usually in little more than the insulting tone you or I might take take in that same scenario. There is no reason for this film to have any stance on trump, other than because of how its main character is a progressive liberal with some extreme views on right wing propaganda.

But even that seems kind of lost on the overall arc of the film. The idea seems to maybe be about how Joseph is slowly losing his mind as he engulfs himself in his work, trying to solve America's propaganda and capitalistic problems, however there is no resolution to any of how he thinks, no connection to his erratic and homicidal behaviour. The dude just starts killing for no reason. Maybe the filmmaker will tell you that it's up to us to decide whether he's crazy because of his liberalism or just generally crazy, but I would posit that in either case that's a dangerous way to operate, especially when making a trump-related movie in a post-trump world.

What is the audience supposed to think? Are we supposed to reject Joseph's views as crazy? Are we supposed to believe that trumpism is driving him nuts? Are we therefore supposed to be sympathetic to him, or are we supposed to scoff at how a politician can drive someone insane? It's hard to tell whether or not this is an alt-right film, and that in and of itself is dangerous. You would think that a filmmaker who makes a movie about a documentarian studying Cold War subversive propaganda would make an effort to make sure his views on this couldn't be misinterpreted.

Or maybe it's just a gimmick to try ans sell tickets or get headlines, which really just makes it shallow and a little disgusting.

Either way, it's sort of a shame, because elements of this movie are way better than its script or themes should allow it to be. Despite Farahani and his writing partner Jason O'Leary's abject failure in putting together a cogent set of actions and motivations on the part of Tilt's main character, the idea of studying the sanity of a man in a modern world is a good one, and a subject that should probably be tackled more on the big screen. The film's cinematography is actually great, making good use of a mostly limited setting, as Joseph doesn't often leave his home. And speaking of the main character, Joseph Cross carries the film on his back, to the point where you wonder how the actor recently seen in Big Little Lies and Lincoln hasn't made a bigger name for himself. Where other actors could have descended the role into something ironic or unintentionally funny, Cross mostly plays his character straight, and it helps the performance stand out from the rest of the film in a memorable way, especially as it descends into ludicrousness.

Not quite a thriller, not quite a horror movie, not quite a film with a political statement to make, Tilt struggles to be meaningful when it seems like that's the paramount thing that it chases. This could have just been a movie about an isolated, struggling man losing his marbles, and there could have even been a political statement attached to it. But Tilt's uneasiness with choosing a side clearly and definitively is a huge distraction from all the positive elements that it sets up around that failure, and for that, Tilt gets 4.5 trump rallies out of 10.