Much like its central character, it’s hard to pinpoint what Tito, the debut feature from rising Canadian star Grace Glowicki, is exactly. Is it an expressionistic performance piece? A stoner buddy comedy? A tender character study? An unnerving domestic thriller? Or is it simply a psychological breakdown manifested on screen? Over a tight 68-minute runtime, Tito somehow becomes all of these things and none of them. In any case, there’s no doubt that it’s one of the most thrillingly offbeat cinematic experiences of the year.
Right from the hypnotic opening credits, Tito comes running towards us like some freaky spectre from another realm (or your nightmares). With greasy black hair plastered to his face, a hunched over posture and a red coach’s whistle dangling around his neck, Tito lives alone in a suburban house, constantly plagued by stomach pains and paranoia over the unseen predators out to get him. Only briefly does he venture outside or to the store, but comes running back wildly when he immediately senses something is amiss. In a truly strange and revelatory gender-bending performance, Glowicki plays Tito like Crispin Glover auditioning for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, rarely speaking (although barely managing to croak out full sentences when she does) but constantly contorting her face into heightened expressions of fear. With essentially zero context as to who this person is, we’re totally sucked in.
Tito’s daily routine is interrupted when he awakens one morning to find a stranger cooking breakfast in the kitchen. Claiming to be his next-door neighbour, John (Ben Petrie) is everything that Tito is not – warm, chatty, gregarious, and a pothead. Aiming to brighten Tito’s day since witnessing the poor soul nervously skulking around town, John prepares a gigantic feast before proceeding to spend the day hanging out and getting stoned with his new “buddy”. That night, John crashes on the couch after falling asleep while watching a movie and the next morning, the fun can begin all over again. But something is now subtly different and John seems perhaps less kindly than he did at first. It’s also clear that John will not leave, no matter what Tito says or does.
The rest of Tito plays out as a fraught two-hander, with our hero desperately trying to navigate this sudden intrusion and John’s increasingly troubling behaviour. Petrie matches Glowicki’s energy with his own intensely strange performance, gradually morphing from chill stoner dude to whiny, aggressive manboy with a frightening realism. Glowicki frames these two crazy performances within a stubbornly off-kilter world, with Christopher Lew’s cinematography alternating between Gummo-esque suburban wasteland vibes and full-on horror freak-out imagery. The experimental score from Casey MQ (who also worked on Mary Goes Round and Firecrackers) and Glowicki’s own fractured sound design heighten the sense of unease, stubbornly rooting Tito’s perceived threats in the abstract.
Just when you think you have a handle on where Tito is ultimately headed, things go completely off the rails (in a good way) during the final stretch, leaving your head spinning as the screen cuts to black for the final time. After premiering at SXSW last year, Tito won the fest’s Adam Yauch Hörnblowér Award “in honor of a filmmaker whose work strives to be wholly its own, without regard for norms or desire to conform.” I’d say that sums things up here pretty well.
We are Tito and Tito is us. Meanwhile, Glowicki announces herself as a major filmmaking talent.
- Genre: Comedy, Drama, Thriller
- Release Date: 8/25/2020
- Directed by: Grace Glowicki
- Starring: Ben Petrie, Grace Glowicki
- Written by: Grace Glowicki
- Studio: Factory 25, levelFILM
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