As some films have gained new meaning under the Donald Trump regime (Always Shine, for example), Kasra Farahani’s Tilt was fully realized to be a knee-jerk reaction. No subtlety, all retaliation. They say that good genre films echo societal landscapes, and Farahani certainly holds nothing back – yet pregnancy paranoias and a crumbling America represent clashing narratives. Farahani works to splice their meanings, but parallel influences might have worked even better as two separate films. Go full angsty liberal or all father-in-fear. No reason to steal the other’s thunder.
Joseph Cross stars as Joseph Burns, a documentary filmmaker and hopeful parent-to-be. He’s just moved into a new house with wife Joanne (Alexia Rasmussen), where they begin their baby preparation months in advance. Joseph also hopes to wrap his latest project, Golden Age, which details the demise of our beloved “American Dream.” But with a baby on the way, Joseph begins to realize his life is about to change for the drastic. It’s great that he’s pursuing his passions, but Joanna will soon need stability. Is Joseph ready to abandon everything? His nighttime walks and increasing aggression might suggest otherwise.
The journey we take follows Joseph, as he distances himself farther and farther from reality. It all starts innocently enough, with an outspoken “Bernie Bro” verbally trashing the “orange jackass” framed on his television screen. There’s no animosity towards Joanne, just directed election disgust – but these are just introductory disturbances. Night by night, Joseph struggles to narrate Golden Age sequences while fighting erratic sleep schedules. It’s as if Joseph becomes someone else by night, hinted by wide eyes and whispered words. His daytime enthusiasm and affection towards Joanne appears fake, and true intentions turn dark by nightfall. The transformation is a fine one, it’s just that details get hazy along the way.
Farahani and co-writer Jason O’Leary create a scenario that loses grip with peril, suffering and indecency. This isn’t a problem. It’s more that Joseph’s nightly vileness isn’t exposed in a way that lets us understand whether there’s control or not. Google searches for the name “Chusuke Hasegawa” suggest Joseph blacks out during these outbursts, but it’s never made implicitly clear. Whether the reckless wanderer is challenging street thugs or gazing a homeless man’s way while malice looms, Joseph’s unraveling is always somewhat curious in execution. Motivations blur whether he’s lashing out against parental sacrifice or unable to accept that Trump is his new leader. There’s much less depth at play than presented – of course, this doesn’t completely sully a proper dive into suburban Hell.
Cross plays the part of distant and unhinged with ample deterioration, and Farahani stages some freak-fantasy dreams that bring art to insanity. Cloned tourists haunt Joseph in a particular memory, while another vision plants his wife in a giant crib between two pinball machines. Oh, and did I mention Tilt gets its name from Joseph’s first documentary of the same title? About pinball theories, chance and – well, you get it by the title. The film represents Joseph’s only taste of success (film festival hype and a $15K distribution deal), and everything he’s about to give up with both Trump’s slight view of the arts and his incoming new child. Fitting how one of Cross’ most memorable scenes involves him playing his pinball machine butt-naked in a maddened daze. Like I said, Joseph’s mental abandon is a punchy one – clarity or not.
As it stands, Tilt is a serviceable exploration of the same old fears. Political unrest. New family additions. A sense of losing hold of life and “giving up” on dreams so to speak. Kasra Farahani showcases the kind of reaction that we should fear in such an unstable social climate, whether or not it be a wholly realistic one. A bit more attention paid to Joseph’s history might have divulged a deeper connectivity, but there’s still enough terror and terribleness to skirt familiarity. It doesn’t exactly hit the high score, but hey, not everyone can make the leaderboard!
Tilt is a bit of a "push" in terms of quality, as there's very little gambling done to up the ante in this generic - albeit serviceable - thriller.