[Tribeca 2022 Review] ‘Rounding’ is an intense but hindered medical thriller

A med student’s fresh start comes with a lot of demons in Alex Thompson‘s second film Rounding. This slow burning psychological-thriller finds the main character relocating when he wants to resume his studies following a tragic event. Severe guilt eventually leads to obsession, and more than a future in medicine is now at stake.

Rounding‘s protagonist, James Hayman (Namir Smallwood), hopes to get back on track while working at an underfunded hospital in a rural town. His previous mentor insisted he stay where he is, yet James thinks a change of setting would do him good. Running away from his problems, however, only amounts to more trouble. In this new environment, James has a leg up on the other interns; he outshines them during their daily rounds. His new mentor, Dr. Harrison (Michael Potts), soon detects James’ struggle as he clumsily communicates a patient’s terminal diagnosis. The only thing the promising young doctor lacks now is a human touch.

Thompson and fellow co-writer Christopher Thompson, also his brother, further complicate James’ journey by introducing a young patient named Autumn (Sidney Flanigan), who is faced with a lung transplant operation because her asthma is so severe. Looking at her case, though, James suspects something more sinister is at play; Autumn’s mother (Rebecca Spence) could be to blame for the daughter’s condition.

Rounding negotiates between a personal recovery story and a medical thriller as James works on his own trauma while also investigating a possible case of Munchausen by proxy. All modern TV medical dramas have at one point touched on this syndrome in some form or another, so Thompson’s subplot is neither unheard of nor is it weighed down by explanations. This approach is contrarily more deliberated and free of melodrama. The most driving plot seems to be Autumn’s illness and mother, but James’ redemption arc stays in view at all times, ensuring neither story works without the other. After all, without James’ past, this mystery would have never come up.

Where Rounding wobbles is in the execution; Thompson uses sporadic horror imagery to convey James’ torment and growing dread. Physically manifesting James’ trauma is a surefire way of proving it exists to begin with, but Thompson’s random acts of fantasy blurring with reality are distracting and ultimately unnecessary. They are forced into the story without a huge reward. Providing a cameo from a multi-headed demon, really a figment of James’ imagination, undoubtedly helps to justify slapping on the “horror” label and attracting a wider audience. From a narrative perspective, James’ ordeal is interesting enough to stand on its own.

When it appears likely Rounding is refusing to trust itself anymore with the story it already has, Thompson wisely sets things back on course. He delivers a devastating revelation that brings everything back down to Earth. The gloomy aesthetic and an utter sense of uncertainty were too foreboding to ignore or dispel. It just goes show a character’s defeats are often more defining (and interesting) than their wins.

In spite of some unevenness and the needless horror-genre pandering, Rounding finishes on a strong note. Smallwood and Potts’ capable performances enhance the story and bolster the better parts of this dark drama.

Rounding screened at the Tribeca 2022 Film Festival.

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