New Life Is a Heartbreaking Horror

Courtesy of Brainstorm Media

It’s hard to talk about a film like New Life for two reasons. The first is because this type of film works best when an audience member goes into the film knowing as little as possible. New Life begins as one thing before mutating into something entirely different, almost like an organic life form. The second reason New Life is difficult to talk about is that it preys on what is likely a near-universal fear that was born out of the shared pandemic experience we all endured. Whatever you think New Life might be, you’re wrong, and that makes for a thrilling experience.

The most bare-bones explanation of New Life’s plot is a cat-and-mouse chase through the Pacific Northwest. A young woman (Hayley Erin) is trying to make her way to the border by hitching rides or by traveling miles on foot. On her trail is an older woman, Elsa (Sonya Walger), who appears to be a corporate fixer of some kind. New Life drops the audience into a chase that’s already in progress. We don’t know why this young woman is running or why someone is paying Elsa to find her, and that’s exhilarating.

The young girl sits against an old car in the forest
Courtesy of Brainstorm Media

For some, the build-up to the film’s central mystery may feel a little drawn out, as the audience isn’t aware of the gravity of the situation until near the midpoint. And that secret is also being withheld from our two main protagonists. Neither has a full picture of what they’re running from or toward. It’s an effective way to create a tense atmosphere. Viewers are forced to watch each flashback with an eagle eye to figure out what purpose it fits into the bigger story. Why does the young woman keep thinking about a camping trip she took with her boyfriend (Nick George)? How does that connect to Elsa’s job?

If you peruse the list of festivals that New Life has played in, you’ll notice a familiar theme. Yes, there are aspects of the horror genre at play within the film, but its feet aren’t entirely planted in the world of horror. New Life is a surprisingly tender look at what it’s like to be human and aware of your own mortality. There’s a fascinating conversation to be had once the mysteries of the film are revealed, but in an attempt to keep this review as vague as possible, New Life is concerned with the human body specifically. It asks the audience to dwell on what happens when you’re aware of your own flesh and blood rebelling against you.

The women at the center of the movie are two sides of the same coin. Their bodies are working against them in ways they’re aware of and ways they know nothing about. They’re destined to collide as their chase brings them closer and closer together. More than that, they have a desire for adventure. The young woman repeats throughout the film that she “wants to see the world.” When the two finally meet, Elsa echoes the same sentiment, but factors outside their control make their shared dream of exploration impossible. It’s sad to watch these characters, knowing that their stories are outside the realm of possibility. New Life forces the viewer to reflect inward.

The young girl has blood on her face in red lighting
Courtesy of Brainstorm Media

For a film that doesn’t quite fit into the horror genre, there are great moments of terror and excellent make-up/special effects at play. New Life also has moments of tenderness that are disarming in their earnestness. In the young woman’s journey to the Canadian border, she comes across people who show her kindness. They cook food for her, give her a job, a roof over her head for a night, and companionship that she so clearly craves. These are people who don’t have much and are trying to survive the best they can, but are still willing to help others in their survival efforts. We could all stand to be a little kinder.

New Life will stoke already existing fears of government corruption, rapidly spreading viruses, and the doomed condition that is being alive. Among those fears, though, is a strong portrait of two women who are faced with exceedingly difficult choices. Their inevitable collision is electric, and one of the most powerful scenes in the film, but it is New Life’s final moments that really twist the knife in the gut of the viewer. A deeply human piece wrapped in the skin of a thriller, New Life will stick with you for years to come.

New Life will be available in the UK on Digital Download from 3rd June

Written by Tina Kakadelis

News Editor for Film Obsessive. Movie and pop culture writer. Seen a lot of movies, got a lot of opinions. Let's get Carey Mulligan her Oscar.

One Comment

Leave a Reply
  1. This could just as well be an A24 project, albeit somewhat different from their others being a slow-burn with only occasional exposition and or jump-scares. Worth watching for the aforementioned unexpected acts of kindness that, likewise, remain different from standard A24 fare.

Leave a Reply

Film Obsessive welcomes your comments. All submissions are moderated. Replies including personal attacks, spam, and other offensive remarks will not be published. Email addresses will not be visible on published comments.

Adult Mufasa stands on Pride Rock

In Defense of Barry Jenkins’ Mufasa: The Lion King

A female photographer sits against a while as armed soldiers pass by in Civil War.

Cati Glidewell and Jeff York Wage Civil War For the Cinephile Hissy Fit