Trump’s presidency is bound to inspire a wealth of horror films, and writer/director Kasra Farahani got the jump on all the rest by filming and setting Tilt during the 2016 presidential election, an increasingly tense political race that was its own sort of horror. (Little did we know how much worse things could get.) The specter of Trump looms over every moment in the film, from the campaign speeches the characters obsessively watch on the news to the rubber Trump mask that sits in the corner of a room that stands for the majority of Tilt’s set, its empty eyes and foolishly agape mouth scowling down at us in blustery judgment.
Tilt stars Little Big Lies’ Joseph Cross as Joseph Burns, an unemployed filmmaker working on a documentary with a rather nebulous premise: something about the corruption of the American dream, and income disparity, and the military-industrial complex, and the Golden Age of our society. In fact, he’ll tell you with barely concealed self-satisfaction, that’s what his movie’s called. The Golden Age.
His filmmaking is inert in practice. We never see him pick up a camera or leave his basement in pursuit of this goal. Joseph spends his days and the long hours of each night cutting together stock footage and historical clippings while recording trite voiceovers. He’s convinced The Golden Age will bring about a “real cultural disruption.” Meanwhile, his wife Joanne (Alexia Rasmussen) just wants him to get a damn job. She’s pregnant and going to medical school, and she needs Joseph to carry his end, a fair request that apparently sends Joseph spiraling down a tunnel of violence and despair.
It’s hard to be sure what Tilt is trying to say here. Are we meant to sympathize with Joseph, with his pitiful dreams and selfish refusal to meet his pregnant wife halfway? And where, exactly, does Trump fit into all of this? While these political times are enough to make the sanest of us feel a little nutty, Tilt loses the thread of this connection throughout the film. By the end, it’s easy to forget that Tilt was ever supposed to have anything to do with the election.
In spite of the thematic fuzziness, Tilt is successful in its relentless building of suspense. As Joseph continues to unravel, as we learn that even his happy past with Joanne was never as innocent as it seemed, we are continuously subjected to an unshakable sense of dread. One nightmare sequence in particular is jaw-dropping, eliciting audible gasps from our audience. By the time Tilt reaches its shocking climax, we’re already wrung out.
Cross and Rasmussen are both terrific in their roles, the two demonstrating an easy intimacy at the beginning of the film that is quickly belied by Joseph’s dark eccentricity and Joanne’s taxed patience. Tilt is a deeply unsettling film, but that sense of unease would take on a more profound significance if we were sure what, exactly, it's trying to say.