My reviews of The Novice, The Phantom, and Ultrasound from the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.
How far are you willing to go to be the best? Whenever this question is brought up in a movie, I am immediately hooked. Movies like Black Swan and Whiplash showcase protagonists who push themselves to their absolute limits, both physically and mentally, in order to be what the deem to be the best.
Writer/director Lauren Hadaway’s film The Novice is the latest in this genre and it is just as brutal a watch as those films were. The Novice looks at Alex Dall (Isabelle Fuhrman), a college student who joins the university rowing team. She quickly becomes obsessed with everything about it and wants to do everything she can to be move up to be the best rower on the team.
Hadaway really puts us inside the head of Alex, which is horrifying, disorienting, chaotic, and uncomfortable. Hadaway uses quick cuts, stylish filmmaking, and a strong score to make a very visceral film. You are bound to feel something while watching this film, whether it’s anxiety, frustration, confusion, or anger. We feel what Alex is feeling and it is exhausting. Hadaway also shows the physical tole this obsession takes on Alex, from bloody blisters on her palms that won’t go away to self-punishment, these moments will have you squirming.
Some of the best moments in the film came from the quieter moments that Alex spends with her form teaching assistant/potential significant other, Dani (played with tons of heart and warmth by Dilone). This is where we see all of Alex’s anxiety and obsessiveness vanish if only for a fleeting moment as she lets loose a little bit and enjoys time with the person she cares about. This really rounds out the film and adds more layers to its characters and story.
Isabele Fuhrman gives a tremendous performance as Alex. Fully committing physically, mentally, and emotionally, Fuhrman has given one of the great performances of 2021. From the opening scene you see Alex’s obsessiveness and the rest of the movie we watch her descend into madness. It’s astonishing work from a young, talented actress.
The Novice is Hadaway’s feature film debut and it establishes an exciting voice and clear vision that I can’t wait to see more of. This is tough movie that is non-stop intensity from beginning to end.
The Phantom takes a look at a crime that was committed in Corpus Christi, Texas back in 1983. A gas station clerk named Wanda Lopez was murdered on the night of February 4th. A man by the name of Carlos DeLuna was arrested and charged for the murder, though he kept protesting his innocence throughout the entire trial, claiming it was another man named Carlos Hernandez. DeLuna was eventually found guilty and sentenced to the death penalty. Years later, during a further analysis of the case, new revelations come up that may actually show that DeLuna was not the killer.
The Phantom is a fast-paced, relentlessly tense, and compelling thriller. Though not even 90 minutes in runtime, the film spans multiple decades. The first half of the film focuses on the DeLuna trial, which is a fascinating tragedy. DeLuna came from a poor, rough area in Corpus Christi and did not have a great defense in his trial. Though continuously claiming his innocence and even stating who actually murdered Wendy Lopez, it felt like the police and justice system were content with DeLuna being the fall guy for the crime and didn’t do any further investigating. It’s tough to watch an injustice like this one, but The Phantom paints a tragic portrait about racism and classism in Texas and America.
The second half of the film is a chilling portrait of a criminal. Fourteen years after DeLuna was put to death, there were further investigations into the case and a man named Carlos Hernandez that brought up new revelations that changed everything we thought about the case. Learning about Carlos Hernandez, his life, his connection with the case, and why he was able to continue to be a criminal throughout his entire life is shocking and horrifying and only makes the DeLuna case even more interesting, complex, and tragic.
The Phantom is a film you won’t forget.
Glen’s (Vincent Kartheiser) car breaks down in the middle of a rain storm. He finds a local couple who is willing to assist him for the night and help him get to a mechanic. The events that follow are incredibly strange and skewer Glen’s grip on reality.
Ultrasound is one of the movies that is better the less you know going in. It is a film that is constantly twisting and pulling its narrative that you never know where it is going or what it is trying to do. After the first scene where Glen spends the night with the local couple, things begin to happen, like weird pregnancies, scientific experiments, and hypnotism, all making Glen and us not know what the hell is happening. It’s a bit confusing and off-putting at first, as the movie doesn’t feel like it knows what direction it is going or what it is doing. But you really have to stay patient with this one, as things get do get clearer and make more sense and Ultrasound ends up being a funny little sci-fi thriller.
Well, kind of. Though the finale kind of ties things up nicely, the final couple scenes are a bit vague and there is a subplot dealing with a senate campaign that didn’t feel necessary to the movie’s plot and took away from the central plot. Ultrasound is a weird, atmospheric, trippy midnight movie.
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