Courtesy Tribeca Film Festival

ROUNDING, directed by Alex Thompson and written by Alex Thompson and Christopher Thompson, is a psychological thriller. The story follows medical resident James Hayman (Namir Smallwood), who transfers to a rural hospital to start over and soon becomes obsessed with the case of an asthmatic young lady. Bathed in discomfort, religious symbols, a confusing timeline, and an unreliable lead, ROUNDING delivers an uncomfortable but memorable watch.

James Hayman struggles over what occurred at his former hospital. When he moves to start over, it is apparent the change of scenery will not work. James looks sad or annoyed through most of the film with only a few genuine smiles. James and the other residents must attend acting classes after James struggles to relay a diagnosis to a patient with compassion. Given his warmth for the patient at his old hospital, it becomes clear that the tragedy impaired his ability to show warmth to those around him.

This changes when Dr. Harrison (Michael Potts) assigns James to patient Helen Adso (Sidney Flanigan), hospitalized for severe asthma. But something doesn’t add up because her test results come back normal. After winding up in the hospital again and taking into account her overbearing mother, Mrs. Adso (Rebecca Spence), James suspects something else is happening. While trying to piece that together, James spirals down.

While there is guilt, there is more here. Guilt does not guarantee seeing multi-headed creepy horse creatures. ROUNDING has religious symbols scattered throughout, implying religion plays a pivotal role in how James feels. After the climax, the religiosity makes sense. The majority of the people around James are white, and the awkwardness is acute when they speak.

White people sometimes overcompensate and push a conversation almost as if they cannot handle silence when they share a space with a Black person. Each time I felt irritated for James as different people prattled on while he stayed silent. The racial dynamics heightened the tension in the film.

James looks like he is on the verge of snapping the entire runtime. People would see him on the floor in the hospital hallway and just ask if he was okay. The man is losing time, not sleeping, passing out on floors, cowering in rooms, and that is all they can muster? He needs more than just coming to terms with guilt; he needs a psych evaluation. The body horror elements made my skin crawl, but it was thankfully short. Never a fan of body horror.

Namir Smallwood conveys a man unraveling perfectly. As you watch, you’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Since his character sees things, the challenge becomes what the audience can believe. This makes the ending one surprise after another. The entire cast does a fantastic job. Alex Thompson’s direction also helps with each uncomfortable scene. The angles are rarely head-on but skewed slightly, and the close-ups raise the discomfort.

There are a few twists that were hard to see coming. But ROUNDING took on a lot, and not every twist at the end is earned. Still, ROUNDING’s attempt is ambitious, and I enjoy the risks it takes. The film winds up the tension leaving the viewer as on edge as tormented, sleepless James. I am not sure about the hopeful note it ends on, but the film, direction, and acting nail tension and dread. I would rewatch this film but close my eyes during the brief body horror scenes.

ROUNDING had its World Premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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