“The Novice”: A Disturbing Study of an Obsessed Athlete


Avery Chien, Staff Writer

Fans of the “obsessed artist” movie genre (filled with films such as “Black Swan” and “Whiplash”) can add another movie to their watchlist. “The Novice” is Lauren Hadaway’s directorial debut, a 90-minute film following college freshman Alex Dall’s physical and psychological obsession with making it to the top varsity rowing team. Originally premiering at several indie film festivals over the summer, it was released to the public in December in select theaters. 

For a fairly ordinary premise, this movie succeeds in working with its limitations and creating a stressful and “white-knuckles” thriller. The direction is highly stylistic and maximalist, with quick cuts, moody lighting, and an effective score. The thematic similarities to “Whiplash” are apparent, but “The Novice” never feels like a rip-off. While both deal with themes of obsession to the point of destruction, the more familiar, relatable nature of the main character and her strife makes “The Novice” a unique addition to the genre. 

Alex Dall is not talented; she is the weakest on her rowing team and does not exhibit the natural prowess that her friend and primary competition, Brill, has, but nobody pushes themselves as hard as Alex does. She trains early mornings and over school breaks, rows to the point of physical shutdown, and continues despite open wounds on her body. As viewers, we are never introduced to Alex’s life outside her obsessions or learn why she is the way she is. We only watch her struggle both physically and psychologically to push herself to extreme limits, and it is through her pain that we can start to understand who she is. With a brief runtime and concise writing, Hadaway seems to intentionally provide a one-dimensional study to make a punchy statement about obsession and self-inflicted pain rather than develop the character. To some, feeling so detached from the character may make for an irritating watch. But for me it felt purposeful, showing viewers that we could never fully understand Alex’s obsessions because she herself didn’t understand them either. 

Overall, Hadaway and Furhman’s “The Novice” is an impressive indie film. It has its messy moments and can get lost in its style at times, but with an impactful final act that ties the whole film together, this is a directorial achievement for Hadaway and a remarkably underrated performance from Fuhrman. I look forward to seeing what the two do in the future and hope this film goes on to receive the accolade and attention it deserves.