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‘The Novice’ is a Tightly Wound Tale of Obsession (Review)

Sometimes you watch a directorial debut and you find it hard to believe it was created by a first time filmmaker. Lauren Hadaway’s thrilling debut feature is a shining example of this.

It probably helps to craft a story that is inspired by your own life. Hadaway was a competitive collegiate rower and “The Novice” tells the story of Alex (“Orphan” star Isabelle Fuhrman), a college freshman who joins the rowing team and becomes obsessed with rising up the ranks.

It’s highly unusual for a freshman to be anywhere near the varsity team, but Alex’s determination and laser-sharp focus finds her sidelining friends, classes, and romantic relationships in order to succeed against upperclassman competition.

Fuhrman’s performance is striking and borderline terrifying. We’ve all known somebody who needed to be the best, but Alex doesn’t think anything about the harm she is doing to herself or others as long as it is in the service of her goal to be in the varsity boat. As this passion consumes her life, she slowly unravels.

Hadaway’s previous experience in Hollywood is as a sound, dialogue and sound effects editor for movies like “The Hateful Eight,” “Whiplash,” and “Justice League.” Not only did she write and direct this movie, but her background informs an aggressive audio mix that really helps set viewers on edge as the story spirals into darkness.

It all adds up to one of the year’s most impressive debuts and the exact kind of independent filmmaking that needs to be championed in this age of nonstop sequels and lack of original storytelling.

Earlier this year, “The Novice” won the Best U.S. Narrative Feature Film award after its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival and it was recently nominated for five Independent Spirit Awards including Best Film, Best Director, and Best Female Lead.

The Novice” is playing now in select theaters and is also available nationwide to rent from all digital providers.

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