Runtime: 9o Minutes
Director: Alex Thompson
Writer: Alex Thompson, Christopher Thompson
Stars: Namir Smallwood, Sidney Flanigan, Rebecca Spence, Michael Potts
By Tom Moore
After his 2019 breakout debut “Saint Frances”, writer/director Alex Thompson returns with “Rounding”, a haunting psychological thriller with personal demons.
The film follows James (Namir Smallwood), a medical resident looking for a fresh start when he transfers to a new residency after a tragic incident with a former patient. Upon arriving, James finds the fresh start he desires, but after he gains a new patient similar to the one that made him transfer, James finds himself in a downward spiral. His inner demons start to haunt him, and he slowly becomes consumed by suspicious aspects of this patient’s condition. With his grip on reality slipping and his obsession with this case growing, James soon finds himself ensnared in dark conspiracies and thoughts that make him slowly question reality.
“Rounding’s” greatest strengths are in its central mystery that develops and some of the more personally haunting parts of James’ story, which are elevated by Smallwood’s strong performance, but these aspects don’t really come through at the start. Often, the early parts of the film lean more into slow-burning atmospheric horror that doesn’t establish a clear enough direction or some good hooks. There are certain moments that offer some good early thrills and chills, like the opening depicting the tragedy that sticks with James, but not much that makes you feel connected to what’s happening. Some of the horror visuals and elements also lack impact as there’s an overreliance on dream sequences that show the film’s budget restrictions and a strange hallucinatory entity that feels confusing and random.
Even the way the film tries to immerse viewers into James’ life as a medical resident has interesting moments, but it doesn’t add much to the more compelling parts of the film in the moment. The idea of seeing James interact with doctors and patients, even having to deliver the worst news imaginable, definitely engages you more in this setting and certain aspects do work in building out James slowly losing his mind. However, it doesn’t always come through in understanding what the film is exactly building towards and only works in later parts of the film to gaslight James.
Eventually though, “Rounding” makes a big turn in establishing an interesting mystery that questions if James’ patient Helen (Sidney Flanigan) is the victim of her mother (Rebecca Spence) making her think that she’s sick. Once James’ obsession ties to some realistic problems, “Rounding” becomes a much more thrilling watch making you constantly question if James is right or if his past trauma has made him see something that’s not really there. It’s a solid mystery that’s made immensely enticing thanks to Thompson’s direction and Smallwood’s strong performance that leaves you on edge. This story turn also makes the quick passage of time and dream sequences a little stronger since it feels like its all building towards a big confrontation or shocking answers.
When that shocking answer finally comes, it’s worth the wait as it subverts expectations in multiple ways. It provides an answer to the burning question surrounding Helen that’s legitimately surprising with how it takes a medical condition talked about throughout and delves into it through an unexpected character. More importantly though, it delves into James’ trauma from the past incident through a shocking final twist full of surprising horror and gut-wrenching realizations. It’s the kind of twist that makes future viewings more compelling because your perspective on James’ actions and certain situations change. It adds more retroactive depth to the opening parts of the film and gives a deeper darker meaning to James’ obsession.
“Rounding” isn’t a perfectly crafted thriller at the start with some subpar aspects making it hard to connect with, but those that can hang on will not only be impressed with Smallwood’s performance, but also find some strong thrills and twists to sink your teeth into.