New Life Thrills with Genre-Blending Immersive Story [Fantasia Festival]

New Life still of Elsa (Sonya Walger) pointing a gun.

New Life mixes genres, initially reeling audiences in as a cat-and-mouse thriller before delving into horror with an underlying tragic emphasis on wanting more. The film takes time to reveal anything. It allows viewers time to connect with Jessica (Hayley Erin) and even sympathize with Elsa (Sonya Walger), the woman tasked with hunting her down. New Life builds tension with every small reveal, making the payout by the film’s latter half worth it. 

Written and directed by Josh Rosman, the movie, playing at Fantasia Festival, starts with a bloody Jessica sneaking into a suburban home to change and grab some supplies. Moviegoers soon learn why as armed people move into the house. Jessica escapes and plans to head north to the border and freedom. Meanwhile, Elsa, struggling with ALS and the fact that her medication is not limiting the worsening symptoms, prepares to hunt Jessica down. These two women’s similar stories are the backbone of New Life.

New Life has Two Lead Actresses Keeping The Story Engaging

As it’s clear Jessica is on the run from suits, it inspires hostility and distrust toward them. Jessica’s resourcefulness and the odds stacked against her makes moviegoers rally around her. It’s easier to picture oneself as her than the government with numerous resources at its disposal. She’s scared, secretive, and suspicious of people lending a friendly hand in her trek, all understandable emotions. Hayley Erin conveys that level of fear, distrust, and hope as she races to freedom.

Elsa inspires sympathy, too. She’s trying to reconcile that her body will soon change due to her ALS, and she refuses to share that information with anyone. The back and forth between them mixes with flashbacks of what led to Jessica fleeing north. Though Elsa is hunting Jessica, the fact that she helms a team and outthinks her team to track Jessica creates mixed feelings. Audiences admire her but do not want her to succeed. Sonya Walger shows the ranged emotions of someone trying to hold onto her previous life and struggling to reconcile her new one. 

Surprising Genre Mix

New Life still of Elsa (Sonya Walger) pointing a gun.
New Life still. Courtesy of Fantasia Festival.

At the start and for a lengthy portion of the film, it seems like a thriller. It’s Jessica evading, while Elsa tracks. The shift in New Life to horror with impressive, if disgusting, practical effects is seamless. After the twist, it’s hard to ascertain who to root for, but filmgoers will feel bad for both. There’s a theme of reconciling dreams and hopes under what is, and both women balk at their reality. It speaks to issues of freedom and how few people are free. Be it work, financial, or health, most people spend their lives dealing with those three, and only a fraction of it living. 

New Life is a tense thriller with a genre-bending story led by two talented leads. Practical effects drive home the horrific scenes, and the climax cements the movie’s lean, tight story. Every scene has a purpose for audiences to reflect on in hindsight. So this is minimal filmmaking done right. New Life delivers horror with a road trip, cat-and-mouse thriller. 

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