Fixation Review: One of 2022’s Most Intense Horror Movies | TIFF

“Don’t let the people who hurt you tell you what’s right.”

This line, uttered at the narrative core of Fixation, could be a coda for the whole movie. The surrealist horror tale focuses on the terror of gaslighting, manipulation and – specifically – women’s lack of agency in the wake of traumatic experiences. William Day Frank’s screenplay is packed with psychological doublespeak and controlling language directed at the protagonist Dora – played with fire and venom by lead actress Maddie Hasson.

But it’s the layered, abstract images composed by director Mercedes Bryce Morgan that deliver Fixation to life. Early on, we see Dora in a psychiatric institution she doesn’t remember being admitted to. She questions her doctors and nurses – especially the sweet, honey-voiced Dr. Melanie. Melanie (a menacing Genesis Rodriguez) tries to convince Dora that the “good doctor” only wants the best for her, but the patient (captive?) refuses to budge.

Dora’s refusal to accept reality is at the heart of it Fixation. As she continues to doubt her surroundings, the facility reveals itself as a menacing maze of self-contained biospheres and eerie backstage corridors. This sets the stage for the bulk of the plot, as Dora finds herself lost in various “sets”—familiar spaces and environments from her childhood, awash in red neon and drenched in mildew.

The movie flirting with Alice in Wonderland imagery throughout. Dora’s descent mirrors – to a point – a cracked reflection of Alice’s descent into the underground. A midway scene in the courtroom mirrors Alice’s trial, and Muska Zurmati’s costumes reflect avant-garde takes on the tried-and-true adventure. However, this is not a mere pastiche. Morgan, Frank, and co-author Katrina Kudlick use this imagery to make a larger point about the narratives men construct for women.

Fixation paints the scary dr. Clark (Stephen McHattie) as a man obsessed with performance. He wants to cast vulnerable people to play roles that eat away at their lives – and wash their minds. Dr. Clark can be read as a parable for any male artist eager to abuse or groom women in order to manifest their fever dreams. A Kubrick, for example – or in this case a Carroll.

His controlled, manipulative villainy is a gloomy analog. Fixation suggests that this process is carried out by abusing, breaking and harassing women. The film makes use of rough subject matter – grooming, abuse of children and sexual abuse are subjects d’jour – arguing for it in grueling emotional detail. It does so in a way that never feels exploitative and is often presented abstractly.

An eloquent trigger warning at the top of the title cards indicates Fixation was made with the best intentions. Much is made of trigger warnings in the film. This grim and graphic image proving that their inclusion is not an attempt to trick or protect the audience. Visceral mutilation, cannulation and disturbing oral torture are presented in detail. This is easily one of the most intense horror films of 2022 – no small feat when you consider grim ticket prices that Scream, Men, and x.

More movies need to be willing to take risks Fixation do. Dora’s journey defies our conventional understanding of “strong female character” arcs. Yes, Dora is resilient and her courage throughout is inspiring. But Morgan’s film is not particularly optimistic or hopeful. She is not afraid to present challenging subjects without compromising. She also has a lot of faith in her audience – trusting that they will be able to “get it” without holding hands.

The director’s penchant for ambiguity, fearlessness and trust is lifted Fixation to must-see status. If this is the future of indie horror, the future has never looked brighter—or scarier.

SCORE: 9/10

Like ComingSoon’s audit policy explains, a score of 9 equals “Excellent.” Entertainment that reaches this level is at the top of its type. The gold standard that every creator aims to reach.

Disclosure: The publisher provided us with a screener Fixation review.

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