Features Live Action Movies

New Life

Director – John Rosman – 2023 – US – 85m


Neither the widow nor the assassin pursuing her towards the Canadian border are quite what they seem – genre-bending thriller is out on digital in the UK

The sound of a distressed woman. Now we see her (Hayley Erin) – her head is bleeding as she walks. Away from – what? She makes it down the street in a very normal-looking, small town somewhere in Middle America, into her very ordinary, well-kept, no frills, suburban house. She washes the blood off her head, switches a hoodie for a sweater. Constantly checking around her, she sees the armed men in the hallway and exits through a window.

Another woman (Sonya Walger) puts down her handgun on the edge of a bathroom sink. She looks tired. The yellow post-it notes on her mirror read “I have unlimited opportunities to succeed” and “I am in the process of becoming the best version of myself”. She takes a pill from the ‘M’ compartment of a little circular dispenser marked in letters for days of the week. On her mobile, she hits Play on Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, specifically the song Like a Rolling Stone. A know at the door reveals Raymond (Tony Amendola), bottle of wine in hand, calling for Elsa. She cuts the small talk. “A contract came down the pipe,” he tells her. “36 hours in. It’s already spiralling out of control. We believe the subject is already on the way to the border and… well, we can’t let her cross.”

The subject is clearly going to have a go at crossing, though. First, she steals a different colour hoodie from a workshop to change her appearance, then bundles herself into the rear of a pickup truck, leaving for nearby woods and taking everything of possible use from the glove compartment when he’s conveniently parked and not in the vehicle. She sleeps in a hayloft of kindly farming couple the Lerners (Betty Moyer and Blaine Palmer), who take pity on her, give her a good breakfast, a lift to wherever she wants and a rucksack of useful supplies. She finds a bar, where she impresses the help Molly (Ayanna Berkshire) enough to get both temporary work and somewhere to stay the night.

She has flashbacks too – sitting with her husband (Nick George) by a campfire on their property, making friends with a stray dog, and being incarcerated alone in a facility somewhere for reasons that are yet to be explained. She is living in a personal nightmare.

Elsa, meanwhile, chats by videolink with care professional Sal (Kevin-Michael Moore) and his client patient Laura (Lisa Cross) who has a more case of ALS than Elsa does, by some six months. She talks about being a prisoner in your own body.

Elsa goes off to find the girl, Jessica. She has backup from distant computer nerd Vince (Jeb Berrier), who relays the latest info on her target’s position, with whom the target has been in contact and the target’s latest known position. Sooner or later, this will lead Elsa, now getting about with a newly-acquired walking stick, to Jessica who is unaware of exactly what is going on since she hasn’t yet put two and two together from what has happened to her in the recent past.

Someone pursuing someone else has long been a staple of cinema plots, an essentially visual idea that not only lends itself to but also drives along camera-produced narrative. New Life takes this simple conceit and (quite literally) runs with it, skilfully doing everything required of it to make an impact, and a little bit extra.

The bit extra is the idea of a hitman – or a hitwoman – slowly falling prey to an incurable medical condition which will at some point destroy whatever personal freedom she has, forcing her to rely on others. This, too, is a tried and tested idea in cinema, if a less common one – look nor further than John Wayne’s last movie, the Western The Shootist (Don Siegel, 1976), in which he plays an old gunfighter dying of cancer. This element, too, is nicely realised, and serves to give the film that little extra something.

There is one huge surprise in all this which I haven’t mentioned (apart from telling you now there’s a huge surprise) which about halfway through skilfully turns everything on the head and forces you to completely reappraise the narrative as you realise that what is going on is something completely different from what you had previously worked out. Perhaps cleverer viewers that I will see the twist coming. It is reasonably fair, I think, to describe the film as a genre-bender.

There are echoes too of the female drifter at the centre of horror shocker Rabid (David Cronenberg, 1977), although the new film possesses nothing like the same metaphysical depth or resonance as that older one does.

And it’s rather annoying that the budget didn’t allow for more than one Bob Dylan song – Like a Rolling Stone is a great track, but it palls to hear it several times in the film and no other music.

Enjoyable and gripping though it is, it’s a film that after it’s finished you somehow wish had a bit more to it. A slight offering which feels like it could have been so much more. Still, what’s there impresses. New Life is very much a no-frills piece which achieves its modest ends extremely well, and while it probably wouldn’t gain much from being seen on the big screen as opposed to the small one afforded it on streaming platforms, as a slice of small screen fare, it’s well worth your time.

New Life is out on digital in the UK from Friday, June 3rd.


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