Director: John Rosman
Starring: Tony Amendola, Hayley Erin, Sonya Walger, Ayanna Berkshire, Nick George, Jeb Berrier, Blaine Palmer
At first glance, John Rosman’s New Life reads like your average thriller. A cat-and-mouse chase between two people with enough ambiguity to keep things interesting. By itself, that works enough for me, I enjoy a good thriller - emphasis on good - and can happily acknowledge that sometimes when things are kept simple, they can flourish. Jessica (Erin) is on the run for unknown reasons and needs to cross the Canadian border to earn a sense of freedom, but on her tail is Elsa (Walger), an agent working from an unknown organisation and someone who has recently been diagnosed with ALS - a condition that she is determined will not stop her in her pursuit or her career, in general.
"Rosman also challenges the viewer to see both character's POVs, often positing both sympathetically allowing for a more charged, and meaningful, pursuit."
The fun really begins when the reasoning behind Jessica’s plight is revealed and that is most definitely something that can’t be revealed here. Films like New Life can sometimes be a struggle to review given the innate ‘spoileriness’ of any real details, but the successful halfway point twist certainly changed the game up and placed the film from thriller territory right into horror. Now, whether or not it is ultimately successful is down to the individual viewer, and, whilst I don’t believe New Life went as far as it could have with its switched-up story, it worked enough for me and elevated something decent into something very good.
The two lead performances really propel the film forward, both Erin and Walger delivering strong turns in differing roles - Jessica is desperate, and alone, but, at her core, just wants to experience the world whereas Elsa’s body is failing her and her views raise many ethical questions to ponder. Rosman also challenges the viewer to see both character's POVs, often positing both sympathetically allowing for a more charged, and meaningful, pursuit.
Belying its low budget, New Life manages to capture the tone and feel of its world well, the cinematography is impressively handled by Mark Evans, and also manages to deliver some strong horror sequences. The film is not short on blood, gore, or body horror and each instance looks great, providing a few moments of real tension to accompany the relentless chase. The implications and handling of the central mystery are also chilling given their proximity to real-life events and walk hand-in-hand with other major productions recently released.
New Life raises many questions regarding ethics, technology, governmental power, and more, which considering my initial observation that this was a small-scale typical thriller, came as a welcome surprise. The quality of horror on show and the tonal shift halfway help New Life to ascend above a simple cat-and-mouse thriller, and, though it is light in certain areas, it’s an unexpectedly strong and satisfying effort.
August 9th 2023