Andrea’s film review – The Novice

The Novice ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2 Review by Andrea Carnevali

A college freshman joins her university’s rowing team and undertakes an obsessive physical and psychological journey to make it to the top varsity boat, no matter the cost. Out in the cinemas this week.

This psychological drama which at times veers towards thriller/horror is one of the most impressive debuts I’ve seen recently. It’s probably not the easiest watch, but there’s a lot to be impressed about.

The ‘Novice’ of the title is Alex Dall, a college freshman who joins her university’s rowing team with only one thing in mind: winning.

The film essentially is a character study which delves deep into the corrosive nature of Alex’s obsessive-compulsive behaviour, not just towards sport, but school and life in general. Her actions pretty quickly start pushing away all the people around her, including her friends, team-mates and crucially her lover.

Hard to believe this is Lauren Hadaway’s first directorial effort, she seems to have a real understanding for not just visual storytelling but also all those movie-making techniques from editing to sound: jump cuts, kinetic camera movements, strange audio mixes all combined together to get the audience close to Alex’s fractured state of mind.

Meanwhile the stunning cinematography, with its beautiful calm dawn shots and reflection on water, conveys both the beauty and the pain of sport.

It’s easy to see echoes from films like Whiplash and Black Swan, both dealing with obsessions: with music in the first instance and with dance in the second, but Hadaway’s distinct style makes this a piece of its own.

The fact that she’s also written and edited the film gives it a very personal distinctive aesthetic, whilst her decade-long experience in sound editing in mega-films like Justice League and The Hateful Eight shows at every beat and gives the film an extra dimension which enhances its pathos.

All of this is at times may feel slightly over-done and possibly a bit intrusive, but I like to think it’s intentional given the character it’s trying to depict.

At the centre of this, Isabelle Fuhrman’s fierce and powerful performance (you might remember her from that very creepy, though rather silly, film called Orphan) is magnetic as well as infuriating and actually rather hateful too.

In the end however, the film remains more of an enigma for me, as the plot becomes slightly secondary to the mood it’s creating and the experience of it.

We don’t really learn what pushed Alex to be the person she is, nor what’s going to happen to her. All we’re left with is a very uncomfortable feeling which might even put you off sport for a while.

It’s a film that I admired more than loved, but I can’t wait to see what Hadaway does next.

Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick.

The Novice is out the cinema right now.

See all Andrea’s film reviews here: Film reviews by Andrea Carnevali

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