New Life


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

New Life
"The use of sparse but spacious landscapes enhances both story and themes, with small farms and towns clinging to the earth in defiance of the elements, humble before distant mountains."

When a film opens with an obviously frightened woman (Hayley Erin) trying to make her way across country without being seen, two things happen. Firstly, most people develop an immediate feeling of sympathy for her. Secondly, one starts to pay attention to the small things. What is she wearing? What is she carrying? What does she pay attention to? Perhaps, somewhere in all this, there are clues which can tell us who she is and what’s going on.

If you pay the same kind of attention to her pursuer (Sonya Walger), one gesture will stand out early on: her hand cramping up as she’s sitting alone in her car. This is the first real clue we get as to the underlying theme of the film.

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Given that the film is built upon layers of mystery which are peeled back one by one, one hesitates to say too much more about the plot, though one might note that it is relatively simple – the real point of the film lies elsewhere. The title might be interpreted in a number of ways, but is perhaps most pertinent in referring to a new way of life suddenly, and differently, thrust upon each of these women, with wider implications. The pursuer, who gradually emerges as the central focus of the story, is herself facing a mysterious future which she expects to discover layer by layer. Her experience is much more commonplace than that of the fugitive, though both are tragic. The film finds its power in exploring the relationship between the two, along with the wider human experience of grasping for life in the face of mortality, both individually and collectively.

A timely piece of work informed by the Covid-19 pandemic, New Life explores the fear of physical isolation and the realities of social isolation, but finds moments of positivity in the care which various characters show towards one another, even if they sometimes pay a heavy price for that. Good use is made of Bob Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone as it addresses the fragility of life as we know it and some of the reasons, both practical and personal, why we generally fail to engage with that. Though it’s undoubtedly one of the bleakest films to screen at the 2023 Fantasia International Film Festival, it also makes a bold effort to carve out space for people whose voices are rarely heard in cinema and, in so doing, to reflect on what makes life worthwhile even in the toughest of circumstances.

Underlying all this is a solid little thriller. It may not have many twists (though the big one, if you don’t see it coming, will knock you for six), but director John Rosman does a very effective job of building up tension, whilst the two central performances conjure up different types of dread. There is plenty to hold the viewer’s attention. The use of sparse but spacious landscapes enhances both story and themes, with small farms and towns clinging to the earth in defiance of the elements, humble before distant mountains.

For all that elements within it have been addressed before, there’s something genuinely different about New Life. It’s an impressive début which will leave you with plenty to think about.

Reviewed on: 09 Aug 2023
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New Life packshot
A fixer is sent out to find a mysterious woman on the run, and the stakes of the pursuit rise to apocalyptic proportions.

Director: John Rosman

Writer: John Rosman

Starring: Sonya Walger, Tony Amendola, Hayley Erin, Ayanna Berkshire, Nick George, Jeb Berrier, Blaine Palmer

Year: 2023

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: US

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