New Life review at Fantasia: A tense, breathless chase movie - SciFiNow

New Life review at Fantasia: A tense, breathless chase movie

In John Rosman’s genre-inf(l)ected chase movie, the future of humanity may depend on an ordinary woman turned fugitive.

New Life launches the viewer in medias res, with Jessica Murdock (Hayley Erin) walking down a suburban street, her face covered in blood that is in fact not her own. She lets herself into the house that she once shared with her fiancé Ian (Nick George), and just has time to clean up and grab her hidden engagement ring (a token of the new life on which she was about to embark), before shadowy intruders force her to flee out the bathroom window.

Meanwhile, her lead pursuer Elsa (Sonya Walger), a professional fixer recently diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and aware that her own body is giving out on her, is working with a team of private operatives to stop Jessica crossing the border into Canada. For all Jessica’s ordinariness, she is clearly at the centre of something serious and dangerous. Both flashbacks, and need-to-know information passed onto Elsa by her handler Raymond (Tony Amendola), will gradually fill in the narrative gaps, revealing just why Jessica is fleeing, and what is at stake for both her and possibly humanity.

“Not too many people are too kind these days,” old farmer Frank Lerner (Blaine Palmer) warns Jessica. The truth is, though, that Frank and his wife Janie (Betty Moyer) are more than kind to Jessica, as is small-town bartender Molly Presser (Ayanna Berkshire), all perfect hosts sharing their food, drink and homes with this polite young woman in obvious trouble. What none of them realises is that they are all leaving themselves exposed to whatever is plaguing their guest. Elsa may increasingly require a crutch, but as the gauntlet tightens and the collateral damage of Jessica’s flight spreads, no one is walking away from what is unfolding.

Writer/director John Rosman’s feature debut is structured a little like Andrew Davis’ The Fugitive (1993), as our sympathies are divided between an innocent civilian on the run, and a pursuer who seems equally well-intentioned, while a broader conspiracy and cover-up emerge on the margins. Here, cat and mouse are caught in the same trap, as clandestine corporate concerns trump national, even international security.

“You will experience all of the stages of grief and mourn your old life,” Elsa will be advised by another woman with ALS, “so you will learn about the weakness of the human spirit, but also about its strength in deep and profound ways.”

These are key themes in New Life, equally applicable to Jessica’s rapid unravelling, which runs parallel to, and is modulated by, Elsa’s advancing disease and her need to prepare for it physically and psychologically. Both these women are losing control as their biology defies their will and a new life takes over.

Though at its heart a chase movie, New Life infects itself with other elements – one straight out of a well-known horror subgenre, another lifted from recent lived anxieties about pandemic – to create a paranoid vision of life where the impulse to escape and evolve and “see the world” is in no way unique to our species. It is a tense, breathless dash, suffused with sadness for what might have been.

New Life has its world première at Fantasia 2023