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‘NEW LIFE’ Movie Review: An inspired cat-and-mouse chiller that invites deep reflection

First-time feature writer-director John Rosman‘s New Life is a gripping, high-stakes thriller that blends elements of pandemic chillers like Outbreak with the tense cat-and-mouse chases of say The Hidden or Species. Yet despite drawing inspiration from such well-known titles, Rosman forges his own unique voice. This is largely due to New Life‘s ingenious and poignant plot devices, which are guaranteed to hook viewers firmly in. This reviewer also found that one specific theme in the movie shared narrative similarities with Claudia Piñeiro’s visionary novel ‘Elena Knows,’ and whilst they are very different stories they complement each other really well so if you like one, the other is an absolute must watch/read.

The film opens with Jess (Hayley Erin), a desperate woman fleeing an unknown threat, determined to cross the Canadian border undetected and leave her troubles behind. But the threat that Jess is so desperately running from is far more critical than she realizes as Elsa (Sonya Walger), a skilled agent, is tasked with intercepting her before she crosses the border. But Elsa’s pursuit of Jess is hindered by her recent ALS diagnosis, which is quickly robbing her of her particular set of skills. But, despite the debilitating disease threatening Else’s future, she remains as sharp and determined as ever to complete her mission and protect the greater good. Both women, searching for meaning and redemption in their plight, find themselves racing towards a climactic confrontation that this review will avoid spoiling.

With COVID-19 still fresh in our minds, the film serves as a stark reminder of mankind’s vulnerability to nature. Yet it avoids full-blown alarmism, even when Erin’s dark secret and its repercussions are finally revealed. This is because Rosman is far more concerned with creating a story that is far more relatable than other films of its ilk, making sure that we simultaneously root for the runaway and the fixer; neither of them ready to give up on life: Erin confesses to one friend she meets on her travels just how much she wants to be able to travel the world whilst she’s still young, and Elsa refuses to let ALS force her into retirement and prevent her from enjoying a dignified existence.

As a result, the heart of the film lies not in saving humanity itself, but in following these two women from different generations as they struggle to find kind of hope and meaning in the face of a bleak future. So, despite the ever-present threat of time running out, the film rarely delivers high-octane action, instead focusing on the suffering and resilience of the two main characters and this is what makes the film all the more enjoyable. What’s more, it packs a powerful emotional punch, as Jess encounters only kind, decent people on her journey who offer her hope and humanity. Getting to know these kind souls, in real-time with Jess, makes their fates all the more shocking and tragic, and further emphasizes nature’s indiscriminate ferocity.

The only minor quibble I had with the film was with the duplicitous governmental figure who assigns Erin to catch Jess. Again, without giving any spoilers away, some of this character’s ruthless actions, while logically motivated, felt unnecessarily reckless given the global stakes involved. At the same time though, this narrative choice powerfully conveys the ruthless, ends-justify-the-means mentality of those who prioritize containing a crisis over moral concerns.

On the surface, Rosman’s ingenious debut feature is a riveting, tightly-plotted thriller. But beyond the taut narrative, Rosman has written an important commentary on the human experience. Specifically, New Life provides a fascinating window into the timeless question of how much humans can really determine their own destiny when so much lies outside of our control.

VERDICT:

New Life releases in US theaters and on demand on May 3 and will also be available in the UK on digital download from June 3.

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