‘The Novice’ is a Relentless and Powerful Thriller (Review)

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As an athlete, it can be easy to get lost in the competitive nature of sports. Many athletes want to excel. Some just want to do their part. In The Novice, Alex Dall (Isabelle Fuhrman) takes it to a whole different level as she strives to be the best at competitive rowing. Being the best at a sport can take a mental toll, and that is fully on display in this 94-minute thriller.

The Novice (2021) - IMDb

The Novice follows Alex, a very competitive person who strives to challenge herself at everything she does. For example, she is majoring in physics even though it’s her worst subject. She picks rowing as the new sport she wants to excel in and it quickly becomes and unhealthy obsession as she pushes way past her mental limits. Director and writer Lauren Hadaway is in complete command of her script and vision of this film. And with little to no moments where the pacing feels slow or the narrative feeling bogged down., the full force of The Novice is felt throughout its runtime as it rows to the finish line (or credits).

Where the movie is at its best, we see Alex becoming obsessive about rowing to the point where she completely pushes away teammates and rubs coaches the wrong way. It even becomes hard to tell if she truly likes it, as seems like she just wants to be the best. She attempts to be friends with fellow teammate Jamie until she starts to perform better than Alex. At that point, manipulation and distain comes over Alex and their friendship is beyond repair. Jamie is trying to get a scholarship through rowing, whereas Alex is only working hard at it purely out of self-interest. A few scenes really show that Alex has a past that has heavily contributed to her feeling like she needs to prove herself. It’s an unhealthy obsession that is rooted in anxiety and depression, which are things that many viewers can relate to in today’s world.

A large portion of The Novice is very dark and honestly tough to watch, as Alex essentially becomes so obsessed that she self-destructs and pushes everyone away. However, the lead performance from Isabelle Fuhrman really propels this film to another level that makes this hard to ignore. Everything from her dialogue to the facial expressions are top-notch. Combine that with the editing (a few sports montage scenes in particular), which is some of the best of 2021, and the eye-pleasing cinematography and The Novice is a very difficult film to look away from….. even when you want to because of its subject matter.

The only issue with The Novice is that is that you blink and it’s over. It could benefited from being just a little bit longer. The editing is so tight and script moves so fast that you almost have no time to breathe as a viewer. It remains interesting, but some downtime would have gone a long way. In any case, the final act is crafted so beautifully and it will have you on the edge of your seat.

The Novice is one of the best films of 2021 and is a must-see if you love thrilling dramas. The writing, directing, and performances are all incredible and you’ll feel a bit numb by the time the credits begin to roll. The ominous tone and character-driven performance mesh together so well. If The Novice is not playing in a theater near you, it’s a must-rent this weekend. You don’t want to miss this gem.

Rating: 4/5