FANTASIA 2023: NEW LIFE is a Intimate and Thought Provoking Genre Mashup

The piece below was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the art being covered in this piece wouldn't exist.

New Life, the feature length debut by writer/director John Rosman is an intriguing genre mashup which feels like what would have happened if Bruno Mattei made an A24 film. The film consists of three very distinct acts that somehow manage to interlock into one another, telling a story that while sub-textually feels very much like a Covid movie, has a lot more to say. 

The narrative sprints off with a John Wick-esque road movie as a tactically trained female assassin Elsa Gray (Sonya Walger) with seemingly unlimited resources is tracking down a mysterious bloody woman on the run, Jessica (Hayley Erin). Or at least that’s the first act and what we are led to believe. That first act has Jessica riding in beds of trunks and evading CCTV wherever she goes on her way to Canada, where it appears the chase is no longer possible. It’s an act primarily focused on the little acts of human kindness Jessica experiences while on the run that would soon have a bleak payoff. 

When we first meet Jessica she is covered in blood with a black eye, obviously from her escape. But it’s how those who encounter her view her as a possible victim of domestic abuse, gives that first act something more to chew on as Jessica ends up working as a bar back in a small remote town to earn some money. It doesn’t feel like Jessica is purposefully exploiting this, but it’s how she’s perceived by those around here that gives the story an interesting heart and subtext as we move through that first half.

The second act of this film strategically imbues both characters with a captivating humanity needed for a hard left in a third act, I would rather leave unspoiled. But we do discover the hit woman is suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS, a terminal neurological disease that slowly degenerates a person’s motor functions. While Elsa was once a skilled “Fixer” for her handlers, here we see her struggling to button up her shirt or even walk without a cane as she attempts to hunt Jessica. Elsa’s story folds out in a more contemporary context against Jessica’s, which is told in flashbacks as we see how she ended up on the run. 

The narrative in New Life smartly chooses to lean into performances, rather than exposition to tell its story through the actions of its dual protagonists. Both are played sympathetically and it’s these dueling stories that really deal out some rather striking emotional beats. It’s something John Rosman rather interestingly pulls off investing you in both sides of the story as we get into the film’s nerve wracking final stretch. Both actors deliver intimate takes that both have their own organic motivations. It’s rare but here both character and their respective journeys feel fully fleshed out and offer a different side of the same coin. 

New Life is a moving look at two people who are forced to face their mortality and how both women grapple with that decision. While Jessica’s is due to Elsa hunting her, with Elsa’s diagnosis she has been entertaining thoughts of taking her own life. This is probably due to the fact that once your ALS symptoms start to show, you could have anywhere from 2-5 or if you’re lucky 10 years left. It’s how these two women end their journeys that offers up a rather bittersweet interpretation of the film’s title, which will stick with you long after the credits roll. New Life takes a few big swings, and unlike most sticks the landing both narratively and emotionally, in a film that is as intimate look at mortality from two very distinct yet similar viewpoints.

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