‘New Life’ FrightFest 2023 Review: A Heart-Breaking Apocalypse

New Life

With the success of shows like The Last Of Us and From, audiences are craving genre outings that grab your heart and rip it out of your chest, making you reach for a box of tissues more than once. Horror isn’t just about scaring you, but about making you feel something deep in your bones. Director John Rosman does just that in his feature film debut New Life, which recently screened as part of FrightFest.

Rosman throws us into a story about Jessica (Hayley Erin), a young woman on the run. She sneaks into houses and scrounges for food, all while avoiding detection by SWAT teams and government officials. We aren’t sure what she’s done yet, but with the number of people looking for her, we know it’s serious. One of those people on the hunt is Elsa (Sonya Walger), a notorious government fixer who was recently diagnosed with ALS. These two women’s paths run parallel before a disastrous intersection with apocalyptic consequences.

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To say much more would betray the twists and turns that make New Life so exciting. But on top of that, Rosman creates deeply fascinating and empathetic characters who really exist in this world. To put it simply this is a horror movie disguised as a character study, a film that lulls you into caring for both characters before dashing your heart against the rocks. These characters have their own private struggles and anxieties, especially as Elsa is shown trying to grasp her diagnosis and how she is slowly losing control over her own body. These two women are just trying to survive their own fucked up lives and yet everything seems to cosmically deem them unworthy of peace.

On top of that, Rosman also tells a terrifyingly real story about the power of state surveillance and how little privacy we all have. As Elsa and her tech expert Vince (Jeb Berrier) try to track Jessica’s location, they swiftly access surveillance cameras, cell phone records, addresses, phone numbers, any kind of information imaginable. These moments, at first, feel like something plucked out of any run-of-the-mill action thriller. But quickly Rosman displays how sinister their actions are despite how nonchalantly they access this data. These moments are just one example of how Rosman plays with genre expectations only to create something that feels familiar and yet is wholly unique in its approach.

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Walger and Erin shine as the film’s stars, each crafting their characters with care, especially as Walger tries to portray the honesty of living with ALS. A story like this could become melodramatic in less careful hands, but with Rosman’s script and Walger and Erin’s performances, New Life earns a place next to films by likes of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead.

On a technical level, the cinematography by Mark Evans eschews bizarre lighting trends and doesn’t shy away from the light. Much of the action happens in broad daylight, never hiding the horrors that lurk both in the characters’ minds and in the shadows. Evans’ use of close-ups creates an intimacy in a film that is technically wide in its scope but is still focused on the characters’ interiorities. It’s a fascinating balance Evans and Rosman strike in navigating how exactly to set up the film’s stakes on both a micro and macro level. And they strike that balance perfectly.

New Life is one of this year’s biggest surprises for me, so far. This piece of deeply moving, bittersweet, and terrifying horror filmmaking will embed itself in your heart like a sliver of glass. A stunning script from Rosman, paired with stellar performances and gorgeous cinematography make this film a must-watch. Go in with an open mind and get ready for your jaw to drop.



New Life is one of this year’s biggest surprises.



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