TRIBECA REVIEW: Tilt
– By MovieCritic NextDoor
A few years ago, a filmmaker had a modest success with a documentary called Tilt, about the history of pinball and pinball championships. Now this filmmaker, Joseph Burns (Joseph Cross), is suffering from a sophomore slump as he struggles to finish his next documentary, Golden Age, about the myth of the “good old days” of the fifties. His wife Joanne (Alexia Rasmussen) is pregnant, and after having supported him by working as a nurse, she now wants to fulfill her dream of becoming a doctor. That means Joe has to step up, but that’s going about as well as the documentary.
For one thing, he’s very stressed, even though they’ve just come back from a vacation in Hawaii. For another, his behavior is increasingly erratic. Words even Google can’t identify haunt his thoughts and he’s more and more prone to “accidents”. Though he seems aware of what he’s doing and knows that these acts are strange and wrong, he also seems unable to stop himself, even as he begins posing a serious danger to himself and his wife.
His dwindling sanity may be partly because he falls asleep watching footage of “duck and cover” drills, not to mention those creepy black and white cartoons. Or it may be because he insists on watching Trump’s speeches and has a disturbing Trump mask in his work area. Or possibly it’s from watching things called phenakistiscopes, which are rotating discs that create the illusion of a moving image. They sound cute and harmless but the ones he watches feature things like a man’s head being cut off and regrowing over and over.
Joanne does her best to be supportive, even defending him to her friend Kendra (Jessy Hodges) but there’s little anyone can do. Everyone’s starting to notice that Joe’s a little off lately, and there’s only so much that can be explained by the creative process or the artistic temperament. Joanne blames it on cabin fever and at one point suggests he go out to enjoy the neighborhood Halloween festivities, which is probably not the best idea for someone who’s turning psychotic. But when something that happened in Hawaii finally attracts police attention, it’s clear there’s no going back for Joe.
Joe’s descent into madness is uneven, which makes it frighteningly realistic — sometimes his horror at his own action is painful to see — but also means that the build of suspense is sometimes uneven as well. But when the tension is high, it’s absolutely riveting and nail-biting. Cross does an excellent job of looking both menacing and lost, often at the same time, while Rasmussen shines in the relatively thankless role of Joanne. It’s psychological horror at its best, with almost no blood or gore but plenty of images that will haunt you. I wish I could tell you about the skin-crawling final scene because I don’t think I’ll ever forget it, but you’ll have to discover that nightmare for yourself.