Medical horrors have found their way back into the mainstream. Considering the world’s reaction to events since 2020, it’s no wonder that we’ve seen an uptick in the subgenre. However, that concept still provides plenty of wiggle room for exploration. John Rosman‘s directorial debut, New Life, takes advantage to craft an exciting new thriller. By focusing on moments of empathy and heartbreak, New Life stands out in the crowded genre.
Jess (Hayley Erin) finds herself covered in blood and on the run. She knows someone will chase her, so she hides in the woods and on backroads. However, Elsa (Sonya Walger) knows finding Jess is of the utmost importance. In fact, the girl may hold the key to saving or destroying the world. As she chases Jess, Elsa must come to grips with her own secret.
Rosman proves himself a talented storyteller from the opening frames of New Life. The images he crafts are undeniably perverse but draw us into the frame. He not only plays with established horror tropes but finds ways to subvert them time and time again. A scene featuring a static television becomes one of the most disturbing moments of 2023. Another in a barn cuts its audience deep, especially given the moments directly proceeding it. The way Rosman frames these moments shows talent, but it’s his ability to seed the heartbreaking story beats throughout New Life that elevate the emotional tug.
Perhaps the most intriguing elements of Rosman’s debut come in how he crafts a duality between Jess and Elsa. Rosman creates a dichotomy that begins to tie the women together early in the film. While parallel in many regards, they each dig deep to harness their survivor instincts. By the time they share the screen, the tension of having them meet is palpable. Building a central tension around two characters that share limited screen time is a trick (just ask Nora Ephron or Michael Mann). Despite this, Rosman builds the stakes and power of their journey to a crescendo that pulls at your heartstrings.
Both Erin and Walger imbue their characters with deep wells of empathy. Erin gets an easier moment to show that heart but continues to show her good-hearted approach with every meeting. Meanwhile, Walger seeks truth despite the emotional and mental toll it leaves on her. She knows her mission is of grave importance, but takes a moment to imagine the fears and horrors her mark is feeling. The impressive emotional work adds further depth to Rosman’s screenplay and narrative ambition.
It’s best to go into New Life with limited knowledge. It rewards patience, and after a turn at the end of the first half of the film, it comes roaring into focus. The power of its screenplay and performances will hit harder as a result. Embracing genre filmmaking is not difficult, but finding unique spins on classic stories is much more difficult. Rosman not only handles that aspect but creates two brilliant characters at the same time. While there’s room to grow, Rosman proves himself an extremely capable storyteller that can only grow with more opportunity.