Rosman Breathes Virtue into New Life

Image Courtesy of Brainstorm Media/Exile PR

When John Rosman’s New Life premiered at Fantasia last August, it was one of those movies I knew I wanted to see. I love science-fiction films, and this one was playing it pretty close to the chest, providing a very limited synopsis and only a couple of pictures to go on. JP Nunez won the rock, paper, scissors fight that day, but I kept that title in my head for the next opportunity to see the film. New Life was released last week, and I now have my chance. However, it’s not quite the film I had envisioned it to be. Sure, the photos I had seen appeared in the feature, and the vague plot synopsis was relatively accurate, but the film shares more in common with a Jason Bourne movie than Contagion.

A woman with a bloodied face giving a worried look behind a hazmat suit mask in the Poster for NEW LIFE
Image Courtesy of Brainstorm Media/Exile PR

The rise of pandemic-inspired horror continues with New Life, a black plague-style outbreak that starts a manhunt for Jess Murdock (Hayley Erin). At the start of the film, Jess is covered in blood as she’s seen fleeing through suburban backyards, desperate to escape her situation. She hitches rides from strangers in an attempt to head to the border. Meanwhile, a secret government group employs the help of Elsa Gray (Lost’s Sonya Walger) to track her through everyday surveillance, containing the outbreak that Jess is unknowingly spreading in her travels. Jess is found to be a carrier of the life-threatening virus and doesn’t present like the others affected by the disease. If Elsa finds her, she could assist in creating a cure.

While Jess’s situation is dire, Elsa has a lot going on beyond the case she’s currently working. Recently diagnosed with ALS, Elsa tries living her life in ignorance of her symptoms but continually struggles in ways that could potentially threaten her life. The entangled symmetry of both women’s situations is viewed through the gaze of Elsa’s devastating diagnosis and the fear of expiring time. It’s the finality of knowing your life will be cut short and the gravity of wasted time.

New Life’s current marketing campaign makes the film look more like a sci-fi opera than the introspective horror-drama that it is. Back in August, the more accurate festival poster featured two faces intertwining like a strand of DNA. Now we have Jess’s bloodied face in what, at first glance, looks like a spacesuit with the words New Life planting an alien plotline in your head. It may be trying to resemble a hazmat suit, which one character appears in, though not that character. It’s a very attractive look likely to pull in a new audience, though some will probably be mildly disappointed that the film is entirely terrestrial.

A wide shot of a woman walking through a forest of fauna and tall trees in New Life
Image Courtesy of Brainstorm Media/Exile PR

The movie probably aligns better with the likes of 28 Days Later, Contracted, or the 2009 Chris Pine-led vehicle, Carriers. Films that contain a plague but are far more metaphoric or meditative than their cover art or trailer suggest. And many of the film’s hush-hush government task force sequences feel pulled from the Bourne movies. Rosman’s debut has moments where you feel the anxiety of the chase, but it’s intelligent and meticulous. New Life is a well-executed genre-shifting character drama with beautiful imagery, but even at its lean eighty-five-minute runtime, things should preferably move slightly faster.

Behind the camera, Rosman has a fantastic cinematic prowess that incorporates the beauty of the natural landscape into many frames. The resonant beauty is a part of the dialogue of the film and a current of its underlying themes of grief and remorse. One of the elements I particularly admire is its “kindness of strangers” angle. Too often, we’re presented with divided views of society, showcasing examples of good and evil when, in most situations (and even with political divisiveness at an all-time high), I think people just want to do the right thing. That focus on humanity and verdancy makes New Life an exceptionally unique viewing experience, highlighting the natural beauty of the world and friendly interactions that form lasting memories. Optimism in the horror scene is rare and even more uncommon for a director’s debut feature.

A woman in a hazmat suit points a gun in NEW LIFE
Image Courtesy of Brainstorm Media/Exile PR

Even with the outpouring of kindness, the terrifying nihilism creeps in through the periphery. The film carries the notion of untimely death in every fiber of its essence. Not knowing the harm she’s doing by escaping, Jess is forced to reckon with her situational reality. Bittersweetness comes through Rosman’s penchant for an honest finale in the world he’s built. Elsa and Jess are unequivocally tragic characters, even on ideologically opposing sides. The result offers heartbreak but also promotes healing.

If you’re looking for a reflective piece of indie horror, Rosman makes a wonderful first impression. It’s not anything I thought it would be, but it captivates, nonetheless. Rosman forces us to confront our own mortality by watching the attrition of others and asks if we’re even really living to begin with. New Life isn’t perfect, though Erin, Walger, and the cinematography are. I tend to think the pace either needs speeding up or slowing down with one more critical moment inserted. Still, it’s more than worthy of a watch by plague horror fans and the elevated horror-drama crowd. With New Life, John Rosman proves he’s a name to look out for in the future.

New Life is now available on PVOD wherever you rent or purchase digital entertainment.

Written by Sean Parker

Sean lives just outside of Boston. He loves great concerts, all types of movies, video games, and all things nerd culture.

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