Jessica sits by an abandoned car in the woods in 'New Life.'
(Brainstorm Media)

Review: ‘New Life’ Is a Fun, if Thin, Horror-Thriller

3/5 Missing Dogs

Jessica Murdoch (Hayley Erin) is on the run. She thinks she’s accused of murder, but she’s actually wanted for something much, much worse.

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So begins New Life, the debut feature film from director John Rosman. New Life features two intense leads and a harrowing chase through a brooding rural landscape—and the film’s high points mostly balance out a story with a few too many plot holes.

The film opens on Jess, her face splattered with blood, hurrying home to collect a few things before she begins a frantic trek to the Canadian border. At first, we know absolutely nothing about Jess’s predicament. We do know that a mysterious organization is out to get her, and that organization has sent its fixer Elsa (Sonya Walger) to bring her in. However, Elsa has her own secrets, and she’s forced to come to terms with a life-changing situation as she closes in on her target.

On the surface, New Life is a tense and creepy thriller. The trailer hints at what’s actually going on with Jessica—hazmat suits, a stray dog, and a few quick glimpses of body horror indicate that she’s spreading something truly nasty. The big reveal is pretty conventional, but the film does some interesting things with it, playing with the agony of lingering self-awareness amidst terrifying bodily transformations. The makeup is superb, and the over-the-top practical effects got at least one gasp out of me.

The main problem is that the plot hinges on highly trained professionals making bafflingly bad decisions, and once the lights come up and the story’s momentum wears off, you’ll start asking questions that don’t really have answers. For instance, the trailer shows a lightning-fast shot of Jess trapped in a dark, filthy prison cell. Why is she in there? You’ll never guess, because the answer doesn’t actually make any sense. Other movies manage to invoke the terror of unchecked disease while keeping their plots believable, and it’s a shame that New Life overcomplicates things.

What mostly saves New Life, though, is Elsa’s story. When we first see her, she’s limping, but she brushes it off. However, it turns out that Elsa has been diagnosed with the degenerative disease ALS. Another character warns her that she’ll go through all the stages of grief as the disease progresses, and we those stages play out during the film. Elsa’s grief and fear over her own body’s changes is an obvious parallel to the catastrophe she’s trying to prevent by capturing Jess, and it gives the story an emotional anchor. Jess’s character never gets the depth she deserves, but Elsa is a relatable and sympathetic heroine.

Body horror doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s rooted in primordial fears of everything from aging to terminal illness. The unexpected connection between Jess and Elsa touches on those fears, but it’s a shame New Life devotes much of its runtime to their cat-and-mouse chase. Eventually, Elsa and Jess get the confrontation the film spends two acts setting up, and it made me wish that the film had focused more on that connection and less on the convoluted circumstances that got the two women there.

New Life is now playing in theaters and on VOD.

(featured image: Brainstorm Media)


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Author
Julia Glassman
Julia Glassman (she/her) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and has been covering feminism and media since 2007. As a staff writer for The Mary Sue, Julia covers Marvel movies, folk horror, sci fi and fantasy, film and TV, comics, and all things witchy. Under the pen name Asa West, she's the author of the popular zine 'Five Principles of Green Witchcraft' (Gods & Radicals Press). You can check out more of her writing at <a href="https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/">https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/.</a>