Director Alex Thompson only pretends to have control over Rounding (2022), a horror/drama film that desperately hopes to belong to the A24 family. Sadly, the various decisions on the execution level cast a shadow on the gripping premise of the story.
Some professions require maintaining a consistent image that establishes authority. Government officials train to build a veritable presence that distinguishes them from incompetent political rivals. Film journalists like to idly boast about their broad knowledge to boost credibility and trust in their judgments.
Perhaps the most incomparable example of authority that we’d ubiquitously like to sense is that of medical doctors. Uncertainty scares, particularly when medicine fails to comprehend the human body and its intricacies.
What is Rounding (2022) about?
The protagonist of Rounding (2022) – a young medical resident James (Namir Smallwood debuting in a feature film) – knows these mysteries all too well. After experiencing a mental breakdown when an elderly patient dies in front of him, James struggles to get back on his feet.
A chance for restoration comes around when he’s transferred to a rural facility operated by Dr. Harrison (Michael Potts). James sets sail for a fresh start, albeit the recrudescence of disturbing visions causes the process of rejuvenation to halt.
What causes these nightmares is the arrival of a young patient Helen Adso (Sidney Flanigan) who suffers from chronic inflammation – presumably a result of asthma. Despite all the tests that seem to confirm the diagnosis, James doubts its validity, thus begins an investigation into Helen’s situation. James spends nights trying to piece her symptoms together, yet the situation begins to resemble his past. For what it’s worth, James and Helen form a sort of reciprocal relationship, where both hope to find healing. But is there a chance to heal the wounds that still bleed?
The main theme of Rounding (2022) revolves around disbelief in truth and has a direct impact on the artistic intention of Alex Thompson. Buying the story that the movie sells requires an immense amount of blind-eye-turning.
When you investigate, the house of cards tumbles down.
Namir Smallwood fails to be the heart of the story
One of the main pain points of Rounding (2022) is its protagonist. Namir Smallwood conjures a middle-of-the-road character who lacks qualities that would provide a gratifying payoff to his story. With a stooped posture, and the incomprehensible mumbling tone that clouds the delivery of his lines, Smallwood’s only believable when DP Nate Hurtsellers gazes into the actor’s impressionable eyes. These are rare moments though, some of which remind me of Moonlight’s (2016) distinct visual style.
Other than that, James spirals into the void of nightmares, recurring as dreams, hallucinations, and appearances of the biblical Seven-headed Beast. Writing’s also to blame. Smallwood visibly battles many of the decisions and words said by James, making the character’s internalized torment less convincing.
Supporting roles, however, help lift the weight.
Michael Potts as Dr. Harrison imbues the mentor-mentee relationship with fatherly warmth, meanwhile, Rebecca Spence makes the most out of the limited screen time her character has. Perhaps the most infuriating part is how Sidney Flanigan’s talents are wasted on a role that’s nothing but a cog in the machine of the narrative. Judging from her stunning role in Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020), Flanigan’s muscles are far from flexed in Rounding (2022).
The horror part of Rounding (2022)
Alex Thompson remains indecisive as to the genre shape of his film, and the symbolism he crafts strikes as opaque too.
Last year’s Shapeless (2021), which also premiered during Tribeca Film Festival, grappled with the same issues of weaving supernatural horror elements without the confidence to embrace them. And it’s a common mistake of filmmakers who flirt with horror without a bone-deep understanding of what the genre entails.
Ominously looking images, that embellish the crude interior of the hospital room where Helen rests, constitute disturbing images that exist for the sake of it. And the allusions to the Book of Revelation seem forced onto the narrative.
Henceforth, Thompson sways between an A24 type of psychological horror and a drama that didn’t need immersion in supernatural themes to work well. However, the combination of both clearly overwhelmed the filmmakers. Each of the jump scares, even when the beast appears for the first time – is worth no more than a shrug.
Questions are raised in Rounding (2022), but answers never arrive
Hardly any connection can be made between James’ intensifying paranoia, the investigation he’s drawn into, and the haunts of the past that return to torment him. Thompson meanders between those loose threads, shifts timelines, and cuts scenes in hopes of better capturing the mental state of James who seriously loses grip.
At the end of the day, the finale that resolves the plot is disappointing.
But not only that.
The unclear messaging of Rounding (2022) raises more nagging – and worrisome – questions. Thompson seemingly suggests that James’ pursuit of the accurate diagnosis isn’t worth it, and that kind of thinking establishes dangerous precedence. As Dr. Harrison explains in one of the scenes, their job is often to provide care and comfort in the inevitability of death. But what if death could be prevented?
Thompson’s film lacks answers to the questions it raises. Hence whatever you might gather from the plot proceedings, Rounding (2022) won’t be as fulfilling as other films that incorporate deep traumas through horror and thriller to eventually end on a drama-filled note.