a new life review

New Life review | A profound examination of a failing body

A government agent and a woman on the run find their lives colliding in John Rosman’s debut. Read our New Life review. 

The very first image in John Rosman’s New Life is a startling one. A woman is walking through a suburban neighbourhood, covered in blood, weeping. It’s unclear whether she’s a victim or a perpetrator. 

From there, the narrative jumps backwards in time and fills us in on what has transpired. The woman is Jess (Hayley Erin) who is currently on the run from the government for reasons we won’t spoil here. After her is Elsa (Sonya Walger) who is currently coming to terms with her ALS diagnosis and the disease’s debilitating effects on her body. 

New Life tests your patience. Rosman constantly poses more and more questions about the characters, but seems unwilling to answer them. If you’re willing to wait it out, New Life will reward you for it. While New Life is certainly a genre film and has moments of pure horror, the film unfolds like a touching drama. 

new life jess

Credit: XYZ Films

Elsa’s ALS proves to be a powerful theme. New Life is a film that’s difficult to dissect without spoiling its surprises, but Elsa’s struggles with her changing, failing body is potent stuff. So much so that often when Rosman cuts to Jess on the run, the film loses speed and comes to a bit of a standstill. 

Most of the film’s runtime is spent waiting for the horror to begin. The more conventional spy thriller elements are nowhere near as compelling as the inevitably horrific finale that brings everything that came before together. The practical effects and makeup look fantastic and keep the film grounded. New Life is a particularly emotional affair, but one that pays off magnificently. 

Rosman is much more confident in telling Elsa’s story. Walger turns in a powerful performance, quietly and subtly communicating Elsa’s growing frustration over her own body. The realisation of why she was chosen for the mission is also a morally complex one that leaves the audience with something to think about. 

At its best, New Life asks us to consider where our loyalty lies and who we should root for. Our obvious answer is Jess, but as the plot unfolds, we begin to question this. There are no heroes or villains in New Life, just victims of circumstances and this proves to be the film’s greatest asset. 

Some parts of New Life are blatantly clunky. Similarly to Reality, Rosman shows some conversations as transcriptions on-screen but the effect is muddy. Whereas Reality was based on a true story and a real-life transcript, Rosman just seems to throw it in as a gimmick. Visually, the film is often frustratingly dark and monotone, but the finale, arguably the film’s best part, is gorgeous with the sunset wrapping around the two characters, finally coming face-to-face in a devastating final confrontation. 

New Life might begin as a humble spy thriller, before evolving into something much more unusual and thought-provoking, but there is much to love here. New Life hugely benefits from a committed, nuanced performance by Walger and a surprising twist near the end. 

New Life is screening at FrightFest on 25 August. Check out the full line-up here


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