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New Life (2023) Review

Since making its debut at last year’s Fantasia Film Festival, New Life has garnered a lot of attention for its first time writer/director John Rosman and his potentially apocalyptic chase film. I missed it during its festival run, but on the eve of its American release I got my chance to rectify that and see if it lived up to its hype.

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It starts like a conventional thriller, with a bloodied woman slipping though the streets of what looks like a typical American suburb, trying to avoid being seen. She lets herself into her house and cleans herself up. She barely managed to wash and change before she sees armed men in her kitchen. She lets herself out a window and, since they apparently never learned about guarding a perimeter, makes her escape. This is Jessica (Hayley Erin, The Young and the Restless, General Hospital).

Elsewhere, Elsa (Sonya Walger, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, For All Mankind) is listening to Bob Dylan and folding laundry when she gets a visitor. It’s her boss Raymond (Sonya Walger, Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire, The Dead One) and he has a job for her. A fugitive is heading for the Canadian border, and she can’t be allowed to cross it. We can guess who that person is, but who do Elsa and Raymond work for, and why is Jessica on the run?

Rosman is in no hurry to answer these, or any of the other, questions New Life raises for that matter. Instead, we see nightmares of Jessica locked in a filthy cell, scenes of people monitoring an immense surveillance network so that Vince (Jeb Berrier, Satan Hates You, Red Handed) can keep Elsa updated on her target’s whereabouts. And Elsa’s hands shaking like a junkie who needs a fix. This we do find out is due to the onset of ALS, something she’s trying to keep hidden.

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About thirty minutes in, New Life gives us our first major clue as to what is going on. It’s not just handed to you though, you have to connect a few dots, but once you do things start to make sense. It also raises its own set of questions and doubts about the characters, their motivations and their interactions with those around them. Like Frank (Blaine Palmer, The Last Champion, Some Will Fall) and Janie (Betty Moyer, Alone, The Path of Evil) who give the starving Jessica a meal and a ride and Molly (Ayanna Berkshire, The Shasta Triangle, Twilight) a sympathetic bar owner.

Rosman delivers a vicious payoff for the slow buildup during the film’s first half as New Life spirals into body horror influenced by Romero’s The Crazies, Cronnenberg’s Rabid, The Plague Dogs and Person of Interest. It’s bloody, nasty, and frequently harsh, both in what is happening and in the flashbacks we see, all of it forcing the viewer to constantly reevaluate their feelings about the leads.

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The small cast are all excellent, with Walger and Erin both delivering standout performances in conflicted roles. Credit also goes to Christina Kortum (Ayla, The Water Man) and her team for some grotesque makeup effects with Maggie Green (The Dinner Party, Half Sisters) handling other makeup duties and Mark Evans (Satanic Panic, American Meltdown) for cinematography that ranges from beautiful shots of the Oregon wilderness to dark, dirty and claustrophobic interiors.

New Life more than deserves the attention it has attracted, it’s a tense film with a lot on its mind, and it doesn’t pull its punches, even when we wish it would. It isn’t an easy film to watch, especially the final act, but it’s a powerful one and will stick with you longer than most films, especially if you’re not feeling well.

Brainstorm Media will release New Life in American theatres on May 3rd. In the UK, Vertigo Releasing will make it available on Digital Platforms on June 3rd.

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2 thoughts on “New Life (2023) Review”

  1. Christina Kortum

    Makeup effects for New Life were by Christina Kortum’s Ravenous Studios. Maggie Green did a brilliant job on the regular makeup for the film.

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