Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The Novice

This character study from writer/director Lauren Hadaway introduces us to obsessive-compulsive college freshman Alex Dall (Isabelle Fuhrman) who joins the university's rowing team. With goals to make varsity, despite having no experience in the sport, Alex throws herself fully into the project in much the same way she decided to make her weakest subject her college major and overcome what she sees as a shortcoming.

The Novice examines a side normally not highlighted in sports films. While Alex is consumed with winning, the movie is not about her heroic struggle over the odds. Instead, The Novice examines compulsion, fixation, obsession, and the winning at all costs attitude that can be destructive not just in the sport but throughout a person's life. Alex is often offered help, much of it ignored, as she seems predestined towards proving she will either succeed or fail on her own.

Alex is an odd duck. I don't know that we ever come to know her or truly understand her obsession, but we certainly feel her never-ceasing drive and need to prove herself at any cost in every scene. Much of the film relies on Fuhrman's performance, and she doesn't disappoint as we need to both root Alex to attain her goal and be horrified by where her choices lead.

While the script offers some temporary distractions for Alex, both in friendship and a the possibility of a serious relationship, the focus of her journey never changes. Hadaway's exploration of Alex's damaging single-mindedness leads the character down a dark path that alienates all those around her as she strives to endure whatever is necessary to prove herself the best. The Novice is a horror film of the main character's own making, trapping her into a destructive path that she has the power to escape but not the will to do so.

Watch the trailer

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