An unemployed documentary filmmaker's behavior becomes increasingly erratic in the months after his wife becomes pregnant.
Premiering at this year’s prestigious Tribeca Film Festival, the indie horror/thriller Tilt definitely lives up to its namesake. It’s off-kilter, disorienting and more than a little askew.
Joseph Burns (Joseph Cross) is an unemployed documentary filmmaker, working toward completion on his latest piece. In other words, he lives his life as something of a house-husband, keeping things clean in his Los Angeles home, taking care of the pet cat and building a crib for his unborn child. He’s married to Joanne (Alexia Rasmussen) who is gone most days – working as a nurse and prepping for medical school. When he’s not working, Joseph is dealing with some sort of quarter-life crisis… a transition of sorts. Apparently, the stress of unemployment, strife in the world, a pending election (footage of candidate Trump is all over the place in the film) and the forthcoming birth of his child – have stressed him to the point that he begins to experience what can only be described as his own dark side. The film follows this spiral of his overly-taxed mind and his new leanings toward violent behavior.
I was greatly impressed with all of the performances throughout the film, but the piece belongs to “team Jo-Jo” (as they’re called in the film) – Cross and Rasmussen. I so commonly overuse the term “authentic”, so how about I say this – what is possibly the nicest compliment one could give any actor: these are real people. The film takes a good deal of time to set up the loving relationship of the couple, and so with seemingly little effort, we automatically like them. There’s immense chemistry between these two actors and so when Joseph begins to act strangely, you’ll feel bad for both of them.
Technically the film is a masterful and engaging effort. It does what the best of films does – it doesn’t distract with overly-flashy lighting or an overbearing score. Everything just lives on the screen with the characters, and with a film like this, that’s the way it should be. We’re able to focus completely on this little slice of life without actually making note of, “That was an amazingly complex camera movement.”
However, I loved how raw, dirty and mysterious Los Angeles looked in the film. With the way the city was captured, I would call it a complete opposite of the light romance which La La Land was all about. It’s certainly something which (appropriately) illustrates the city’s dark-side.
The film is rife with symbolism – notably the cactus plant in the couple’s small courtyard (I was in love with the scene where this cactus symbol comes to a head), and of course the film’s use of the pinball motif (thus the title). Tilt represents more than just the title of Joseph’s previous film effort.
When I say that Tilt is a light-hearted romp, you can read that with as much dripping sarcasm as your mind will allow. If there ever were a film with deeply political and societal commentary, this would be it. Shot in 2015 during the primary elections, there are already the rumblings of trouble in the world depicted. This film is as timely as can be in today’s political and international unrest and one could even say that it’s prescient in all that it shows.
I’m actually bummed that I watched this one alone, since it will most certainly be a film you’ll want to discuss with your fellow audience members once the screening is complete. Believe me, there are oodles of topics you’ll want to dig into – and having another ear will make it all the more potent.
My husband and I, in some sort of sad effort to try to keep ourselves grounded, often have a one word comment to one another when it seems that we may be complaining about “first world problems”.
Look, we’re comfortable and blessed in our lives and those pitiful excuses which may cause “stress” are no match for the frightening and real issues which millions face in their everyday lives. With all of the world watching Syria, the city-name Aleppo is something most will recognize. So my husband and I will offer up a simple “Aleppo” when our complaints of “We don’t have hot water today” or “They switched the brand of iced tea they use are our favorite restaurant” come up.
With that, Tilt is clearly a biting analysis of “white male privilege”. Joseph seems to have it pretty good. He and Joanna are comfortable, expecting a baby and Joanna’s income is enough to allow Joseph to follow his dreams of being a filmmaker. And while we all know that mental illness is a real and trying hurdle which so many must deal with every single day (I don’t want to downplay that), I can’t help but describe Joseph as something of a whiny, entitled Millennial.
But I did feel sympathy for Joseph’s plight. He does some awful things, but ultimately, he’s a product of his environment. You look at him as if he was one of those kids who got a participation ribbon for any and all events when he was young. He was never brought up to properly handle real-life stressful situations. So I felt for him, but didn’t like him. The debates you could have about this character and this film would be so rich! Again, make sure you watch with someone, just for the after-talk!
Tilt is high-brow, always political and extremely disturbing. It’s definitely something which will hold up a mirror to so many around the world (with an extra focus on Americans – and further – to straight white males). While there’s plenty of symbolism to sift through and attempt to translate, what the film says as a whole is no mystery.
As an extra bonus, Dexter’s C.S. Lee appears in a cameo as an executive interviewing Joseph. With his most recognizable character being a sort of sex-crazed forensics nerd, it was nice to see him in something so subtle. And even with only about five minutes on-screen, his appearance is definitely memorable.
Finally, an honorable mention is required for a fantastic hallucination/fantasy sequence involving a vacuum. And the continued revisits to the film’s brief prologue and a Japanese name offer up one helluva build – even when no concrete answers are ultimately provided. But when you make that obvious discovery for yourself, you’ll feel as uneasy (and pleased) as I did.
Excellent performances, a sleek production and an almost overwhelming avalanche of political and societal ideas to keep you thinking, Tilt is definitely worthy of your time.
No further information is available regarding theatrical, DVD or VOD release. But stay tuned, as you won’t want to miss this!