Amy Smith takes a look at ‘The Novice’, as part of FilmHounds’ ongoing Tribeca Festival coverage.
When looking at the schedule for this year’s 2021 Tribeca Festival, The Novice immediately stood out. Leading actress Isabelle Fuhrman has made some interesting film choices in her young career — playing Esther in Orphan (2009) and Clove in The Hunger Games (2012). Her role in The Novice seemed to be another fascinating choice. Whilst the rest of the cast can feel forgettable in contrast, it will be hard to forget Fuhrman’s performance as Alex Dall; as she slowly becomes an unhinged shell of a human throughout the film. It’s a role that strikes a balance of being loud and unnerved, without going into territory that is either comedic or unrealistic.
Lauren Hadaway’s debut feature is certainly not the most original of stories, as it is quite easy to compare The Novice to Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010). Clocking in at only 94 minutes, the structure of the film is tight, and extremely focused on Alex’s journey. Even though this story that has been told before, the decision to focus the subject on Rowing is refreshing and works well for the subject matter and narrative style. Rowing is a sport that on first sight seems relaxing and easy, but it is one that takes a lot of dedication and hard work to master. That combination —like how ballet is utilised in Black Swan— helps to create a jarring tone that emphasises the unsettling atmosphere.
Although, a lot of the tone relies on editing for the film to come to life. This is where the film can get overwhelming with the number of stylistic choices and cuts that are presented, as it does occasionally distract from the story itself. It is easy to see why the choices were made, but the over-use of cuts and emphasised lighting can make the film difficult to watch in various moments. However, where the film shines most is in its use of sound design, where more subtle choices still help to set the tone and create an atmosphere that is largely uncomfortable.
With a plot that could have easily felt repetitive or boring, the screenplay and the leading performance from Fuhrman makes The Novice a refreshing experience. The story is tight, with a clear inciting conflict that helps give the audience a satisfying destination and end-goal. It may have some issues within its inconsistent editing and tone — but for what the film worth, The Novice offers a suspenseful journey into the obsessive human psyche.
The Novice premiered at this year’s Tribeca Festival, as part of the US Narrative Competition program. The film is currently seeking international distribution.