Four years after making her debut with the cannibal shocker “Raw” writer-director Julia Ducournau returns with the fossil-fueled frightmare “Titane” that once again follows in the footsteps of auteur David Cronenberg, even more so, as the body horror film and Palme d’Or winner features several scenes that dare you to keep watching.

I interviewed Ducournau in 2017 and we spoke about her parents being doctors which led to her fascination with the human body, “What I love about bodies is that they can be frightening when they transform from a disease, they are a constant reminder of our mortality.” Speaking with a heavy French accent, she added “The way a body works has always been strange and fascinating to me.” It’s easy to recognize “Titane” as an evolution in Ducournau’s filmmaking based on her own psyche.

The film begins with a prologue, a quick flash of “Hereditary” as frigidity 7-year-old Alexia (Adèle Guigue), seated in the car’s backseat, seems to be doing everything she can to distract her father until he crashes the car. After undergoing Titanium (Titane in French) cranioplasty, Alexia emerges from the hospital with a newfound affection for automobiles, hugging her father’s car once they are reunited.

Fast forward, Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), now in her 20s, works as an exotic dancer, her androgynous look appealing to both men and women. She twerks on top of a pimped-out Cadillac in a hybrid car show-strip club, slithering over the restored ride like Tawny Kitaen in a Whitesnake video, the audience unaware they are witnessing an act of foreplay.

Later that evening, the low-rider Caddy seduces Alexia as metal and flesh merge in a Sci-Fi procreation that kicks Christine to the curb, carrying Cronenberg’s stamp while leaving the audience bewildered yet anxious for what happens next.

I should also mention that Alexia is a serial killer who uses a hair stick as her weapon of choice plugging it into her victims, usually in the head, which leads to quite a few bloody moments. When an artist’s rendition of her mugshot is circulated as an electronic Wanted sign, Alexia changes her look by cutting off her hair and intentionally breaking her nose (a scene that made me turn away) to pose as a missing boy (now an adult) named Adrien. It works and the police contact Adrien’s father Vincent (a masterful performance by Vincent Lindon) who shows up to reclaim his son.

At times “Titane” is difficult to watch, especially as Alexia/Adrien pushes the human body to its limit. Rousselle and Lindon are compelling as a love-hate relationship develops. Both are damaged people, he’s addicted to steroids with mood swings that range from abusive to nurturing, and, well, she’s a serial killer pretending to be his missing son. Clearly, we have a winner.

“Titane” captures the viewer the way an accident scene won’t let yet look away. The role of Vincent was written by Ducournau with Lindon in mind, he won Best Actor at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival for “The Measure of a Man.” Lindon’s Vincent is the Captain of a group of firemen, who suspects that Alexia is not really his son, yet he never lets on. This is where the story becomes one of loss and moving forward with a climax that brings love to the forefront in a scene that is shocking, benevolent, and very Cronenberg.

With “Raw” and “Titane” under her belt, Julia Ducournau is one of the most stimulating filmmakers worldwide. A sophomore director whose work is comparable to the seasoned masters of horror she emulates, and we admire.

(3 1/2 stars)

Now showing at various theaters in the Dallas/Fort Worth area including The Grand Berry Theater, The Texas Theatre, Alamo Drafthouse Las Colinas, Angelika Film Center & Café, and Angelika Film Center & Café Plano.

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Joe Friar

Member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Latino Entertainment Journalists Association (LEJA), the Houston Film Critics Society, and a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

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