New Life Review | A Cat and Mouse Thriller with a Horror Twist


New Life, the debut feature-length offering from writer/director John Rosman, is yet another case of a film that’s difficult to talk about without spoiling some of its key surprises. It’s a genre film, of that there is little doubt, but it takes its time before becoming a horror movie and getting to the real frights, spending much of its first act instead resembling more of a traditional cat and mouse thriller, a la The Fugitive.

New Life Expertly Creates Tension and Withholds Information

Hayley Erin in New Life
XYZ Films

The film opens on Jessica (Hayley Erin), whose face is covered in blood that doesn’t appear to be hers. She’s on the run from someone or something, and she’s scared. That’s pretty much all we know about her for quite some time.

We get a little more overall information when we meet the film’s other lead, Elsa, played by Sonya Walger. Elsa is a senior government manhunter, the best at what she does. She’s currently struggling, both physically and mentally, after her recent ALS diagnosis.

She’s trying to take things slow and relax without really letting anyone know, but her boss, an appropriately uptight character played by Stargate‘s Tony Amendola, needs her to track Jessica down at all costs, and he can’t trust anyone else with the mission. It may sound like typical spy movie fare, but believe us when we say that things start to go off the traditional rails pretty quickly.

The film does a really good job of tying Jessica and Elsa’s journey together in unexpected and rewarding ways. At first glance, it feels like they couldn’t be more different, but by the end of their journey together, their lives could almost be warped mirror images of each other.

New Life Forces You to Question Its Characters

Hayley Erin in New Life
XYZ Films

New Life is constantly forcing us to question who we should be rooting for. We think we know who’s doing the right thing, and then that gets completely flipped on its head. This happens more than once, and with multiple characters. With limited, focused dialogue, we learn everything we need to know to make the protagonists’ world feel lived in without much (or in some cases any) exposition about those worlds.

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New Life is primarily set among wilderness and farmland, and it uses its small-town locations to such fantastic effect that it’s easy to forget just how many times it changes location in its short runtime. The woods can be calming, and the scenery is gorgeous, but at the drop of a hat, these same settings become eerie and in some cases, terrifying. Suffice it to say that in this film, nature truly becomes an important character in its own right.

The tension provided by the first half of the film, before the audience or most of the characters have any idea what’s going on, is palpable, and it can sometimes be frustrating. But once the other shoe drops, the pace picks up and becomes a brisk sprint to the finish line, and its conclusion is deeply satisfying. It does all of this in the span of 85 minutes and some change. Not a single moment in New Life is wasted, and it doesn’t feel like it needed to be any longer either.

A Short Feature Film That Doesn’t Waste Any Time

WIth such a short runtime, there were definitely bigger, bloodier places the story could have gone, had it chosen to do so. Other films that deal with the same horrors generally do so with more explosions and a hell of a lot more gunfire. But New Life isn’t boring, and it isn’t lacking for scene-stealing moments. The effects are bloody and visceral, and feel personal in a way that these films often don’t.

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The twists and the characters are enough to keep you engaged, and even once the twists have been revealed and the puzzle is complete, you’ll still find yourself wanting to look back through it again to see what you might have missed on the first go around. The reaction to the film in the theater was audibly positive. Groans and cheers were doled out in equal measure and at exactly the right moments. This is obviously no guarantee of the film’s wider success or appeal, but the mixing pot of a big city audience displaying what certainly seemed like a universally positive experience is certainly a good sign.

With New Life, John Rosman has created a genre film that hides its genre. Much like Mike Flanagan’s acclaimed Netflix horror series Midnight Mass, the film’s real horrors are presented in a wink-and-a-nod way to the audience. We understand more or less what’s going on here, but it’s well cocooned within the film’s more realistic tone, and never directly called out by name or lore by any of the characters in the film. And it really works.

New Life had its premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal, Quebec on August 8th, 2023. It was screened again on August 9th. Be sure to watch this space for any information regarding the film’s wide release.

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