New Life

Director: John Rosman

Writers: John Rosman

Cast: Hayley Erin, Sonya Walger, Ayanna Berkshire

Producers: Mark Marchlewski

Cinematographer: Mark Evans

Cert: 15 (TBC)

Running time: 85mins

Year: 2023

What’s the story: Fugitive Jessica (Erin) is running for the Canadian border. In pursuit is Elsa (Walger), an agent for a shadowy – possibly government – organisation. As the race and chase escalates, the future of humanity may be at stake.

What’s the verdict: John Rosman’s debut feature proves quietly apocalyptic horror can be as stirring as big budget destruction spectacle. Chilly Oregon landscapes serve as the backdrop for an unusual cat-and-mouse chase movie more interested in exploring the characters of both pursued and pursuer than wham-bang action. Not that writer/director Rosman can’t stage an effective suspense sequence when the mood takes him.

Hayley Erin is the vulnerable looking yet resilient Jessie. The film opens with her walking down a nondescript back alley, numb with shock, spattered with blood, and a bruise under one of her wide eyes. A return home provides no solace as armed agents quickly show up.

Forced on the run, Jessie relies on the kindness of strangers to survive. Something she finds on a failing farm run by a kindly old couple, and at a local bar in an economically depressed town, where she meets trusting bartender Molly (Berkshire).

Hunting Jessie is the tired-looking Elsa (Walger), a valued agent hiding a degenerative disease from her superiors, but seeking online counselling on what to expect. As Elsa pursues her target, Rosman slips in flashbacks and snippets of information to reveal why the young woman is being hounded. As the situation becomes clearer and the characters richer, New Life throws up moral quandaries and suspicions that Elsa’s “firm” is not on the up-and-up. All of which turns this into something more unusual and rewarding than many films in its genre.

To reveal more would spoil the surprises. Surprises which include a merciless logic in depicting the film’s peril, muddying audience sympathy and antipathy for the central characters. No spoiler though to say New Life is effective when it shifts into horror territory, with Maggie Green’s make-up effects bringing the danger to glistening life.

Rosman keeps everything admirably ground level, including the sometimes schlubby agents back at base using GPS trickery so Elsa can close in on her prey. Erin and Walger are effective in the leads, and the unknown cast acquit themselves well. The director knows how to use the dramatic landscapes of the Pacific Northwest to his advantage, setting the emotional crescendo of the film’s climax against the dramatic landscape of the Canadian border.

That Jessie is attempting to cross a border invites various readings, as does the film’s title. Rosman proves there is fresh life in an old formula, and on the strength of this leaves you keen to see where his interests turn next.

Rob Daniel
Twitter: rob_a_Daniel
Letterboxd: RobDan
Podcast: The Movie Robcast

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