'Titane' review: There's a lot going on underneath this hood

It's a shocker alright, but what does it all mean? Julia Ducournau's second movie makes an impression even if it's not clear what it's saying.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Sex with cars is just the beginning of the eye-popping shocks in "Titane," an unrelenting but somewhat adrift body-horror experiment that nonetheless leaves a mark. 

But the meaning of those marks isn't immediately or readily discernable. Director and co-writer Julia Ducournau's second feature (after 2017's gruesome "Raw") is short on easy answers but long on sequences you won't be able to remove from your brain, like a long needle jammed into your skull through your ear.  

Agathe Rousselle in "Titane."

That happens to be the preferred weapon of choice for Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), who when she's not offing unsuspecting victims is a car show model who writhes and twerks on the hoods of automobiles for rapturous audiences. (Take that, NAIAS!) As a child, Alexia was in a bad car accident that drew her closer to motor vehicles. Now she's intimate with them, strapping herself into the backseat of her Caddy for the most, er, auto-erotic sex scene since Cameron Diaz humped a windshield in "The Counselor."

In what ends up being a rather potent argument for birth control, Alexia gets pregnant by the car, which is awkward. Matters are complicated by the fact that she's on the lam and is posing as the missing son of an emotionally vulnerable but outwardly tough father, Vincent (Vincent Lindon), and she must hide her growing belly as well as her breasts to pass off the lie. It's never clear whether Vincent truly buys the lie or is convincing himself of its truth because he needs to believe in something beyond his own grief.  

Ducournau openly plays with themes of gender identity, sexuality, queerness, violence and unconditional love, barreling down the highway like David Cronenberg's "Crash" with its pedal to the metal. But after its brutal first act it begins losing its way, like a road trip without a map. "Titane" isn't necessarily about the end destination, and there certainly are some unforgettable roadside attractions along the way. But its mysteries remain locked, and Ducournau isn't willing to give up the keys. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'Titane'

GRADE: C+

Rated R: for strong violence and disturbing material, graphic nudity, sexual content, and language

Running time: 108 minutes

In theaters