Writer/Director: Grace Glowicki
Starring: Grace Glowicki, Ben Petrie
Cinematographer: Christopher Lew
Production Designer: Ana Popova
Grace Glowicki isn’t afraid to take risks. Her latest horror flick, Tito (2019), in an intelligent and daring take on sexual predation that bends the rules of style, casting, and acting. The eponymous protagonist of this film, on the other hand, is not at all like the writer/director who created him. Tito is afraid of taking risks. Played by Glowicki, he is a paranoid recluse with a rape whistle who bolts frantically from place to place with head down and shoulders hunched. Starved of food and surrounded on all sides, Tito befriends a friendly neighbor (Ben Petrie) who’s not what he appears to be.
Glowicki’s decision to play the cis-gender male character challenges us to think about the nature of trust and friendship. For, on one level, this film is a straightforward story about male bonding. Tito makes friends with a friendly stoner from next door who cooks him a delicious meal. So, he gradually comes out of his shell and the two become companions. They forge a relationship over breakfast, nature walks, and other fun stuff. Tito begins to feel safe around his new friend.
And that’s when the tension erupts in this surreal fable. Because the friendly neighbor’s behavior deteriorates as the friendship evolves. He transforms into a sexually-frustrated “bro” who makes us re-think Tito’s manic behavior. What was a traumatized male introvert transforms under the toxic male glare into a scared, vulnerable woman. The lesson here is that women live in constant fear of predation. And, Glowicki presents that message in an inventive way. Tito uses a relationship that men understand and cleverly bends it so that these same men can see the potential hazard it poses to women.
The result is an entertaining petition to build male allies through the conventions of horror. But that bid for male support prompts Glowicki to make another choice that didn’t work as well. The acting in this movie is purposefully cartoonish and comical. Glowicki reports on her Kickstarter page that she chose a humorous approach to put the male audience at ease. It works with the neighbor. We’re lulled into complacency by Petrie’s over-the-top stoner routine. And then we’re all the more frightened when his overdone mannerisms give way to something quiet and sinister.
But it doesn’t work with Tito. Glowicki plays the main character so far over the top that Tito’s fear comes off as spasmodic and confusing. My initial impression of the protagonist was that this film was about a character with a disability. The time it took to figure out I was wrong could have been better spent seeing the world from the perspective of a frightened introvert. So, I guess if you go for cartoonish humor, you’ve got to be funny, not just exaggerated. Because, as a result, we won’t build the requisite sympathy for Tito that makes the final act so sad and haunting. Thankfully, Glowicki’s team uses lighting, music, shadow, and design to skillfully bring us to a disturbing confrontation between the friends.
Tito premiered at the Final Girls Berlin Film Festival on February 9, 2020. It’s smart, original, and provocative. It’s not perfect. But perfect is for Hollywood, and Hollywood usually sucks. So, be sure to check it out.