Tag Archives: Amy Forsyth

Gently Down the Stream

The Novice

by Brandon Thomas

Those who know me best know that I don’t have a competitive bone in my body. Growing up, I was only interested in playing sports for fun. Once everyone started taking winning seriously, I was out. Even a more-than-casual game of Monopoly is enough to make me throw up my hands and say, “Pass.” 

Look, I get the allure of competitive sports. To a lot of folks, it’s like a drug and they constantly need that fix. In art, the competitive spirit has made for some wonderful films. Rocky, Hoosiers, and Rudy highlight the best that sports can bring about in people. However, there is a dark side too. Competition can morph into obsession and even borderline addiction. Director Lauren Hadaway’s film The Novice is a riveting depiction of the obsessive lengths an athlete will go to reach their goals.

College freshman Alex Dall (Isabelle Furhman of Orphan) has set an almost impossible goal for herself: to make it onto the varsity rowing team as a first-year novice. Despite warnings from the coaching staff that novices rarely make varsity, Alex and another novice, Jamie (Amy Forsyth of Coda), devote themselves almost exclusively to training. Whether it’s obsessively eating healthy foods, rowing until they blackout, or solo training on the water before sunrise, the girls attain absolute tunnel vision toward their goal. As the season progresses, Alex’s physical and mental health begins to decline as the prospect of losing varsity becomes a possibility.

The Novice is one of the most confident feature debuts I’ve seen in a long time. Hadaway’s directorial finesse is on point as she keeps the film expertly drifting between sports drama, psychological thriller and tragic romance – all while never committing to any particular genre. It’s a choice that keeps audience expectations constantly fluid and on edge. 

That same sense of unpredictability extends to the film’s lead character, too. The early scenes where Alex is presented as the spunky underdog quickly give way to scenes of the character obsessively training, verbally accosting school staff and even mutilating herself. Hadaway’s excellent script doesn’t let Alex off easy, but it also isn’t a complete indictment of her behavior. 

The visual language of The Novice is another highlight. Hadaway’s camera does a lot of the heavy lifting as it lingers on Alex’s intense workouts. The focus on Alex’s sweaty, nearly exhausted body, conveys that there’s something not right with this. Again, it walks that fine line between competitiveness and obsession.

With an amazing script, an outstanding lead performance, and a laser-focused director, The Novice ends up being one of the absolute best films of 2021.

Not-So-Fun House

Hell Fest

by Hope Madden

Hell Fest is not the first film to point out that it would be really dangerous if any of the masked meanies inside a Halloween haunt were, indeed, a murder-happy maniac. It’s not a bad premise, just not a new one.

In keeping with the not-so-fresh theme, this film is a straight-up, unapologetic slasher. Not a nostalgia-seeped, homage-laden satire or meta-commentary. Nope. Hell Fest is an unironic slasher. Six nubile youths drink some shots and head into a situation that should be fun but does, of course, hold the potential for serious danger. But they’re young, they’re immortal, they’re so hot and horny.

Why so much groping, by the way? They aren’t that drunk, they have homes, none of them just got out of prison. That’s the thing about slashers: we’ve seen so, so, so many of them over the years that the cracks in the formula are gaping holes by this point.

Nevertheless, Hell Fest stays its by-the-numbers course. Director Gregory Plotkin (Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension) manages to keep the energy high, even as the story weaves tediously through an amusement park.

The script, penned by a committee of five, doesn’t burden itself with much in the way of backstory or the need for character arc. Of the six, Natalie (Amy Forsyth) is the smartest and least slutty. She is, therefore, the target of our slow-moving, weirdly strong, masked marauder.

Her friends are mainly over-the-top caricatures of humans, but there’s an almost believable camaraderie among them. Forsyth fares best, clumsily flirting with the equally awkward Gavin (Roby Attal) as their overdressed friends drink from flasks and tell us how very excited they are.

While a couple of the attractions are fun, the main problem with Hell Fest is that it is not scary. Not for a minute. Nor is it gory—for a film with an R rating, there’s almost no blood, absolutely no nudity and very few F-bombs. It’s as if they hoped for a PG13 rating, didn’t get one and now they’re stuck with a movie that can’t entertain the wee ones and won’t entertain adults.

They do have Tony Todd, though. When has that ever been a bad idea?

I know, October is basically here and you just want to find some new scary movies to put you in the mood. Dude, seriously, Halloween comes out in two weeks. Just hold your horses.