John Rosman’s ‘New Life’ opts for subtlety as it presents its main protagonists in what you think are two different paths that will eventually collide. On the one side, the audience sees the first visual of a blooded and out-of-breath Jessica (Hayley Erin) looking to escape something or someone. While languishing alone in the Pacific Northwest, she’s looking to get to Canada in a hurry. The only glimpse is a couple of armed men looking through her house as she escapes. What did Jess do that has her on the run like Dr. Richard Kimble in ‘The Fugitive?’ Is it because of something terrible she’s done, or is it possible she was framed for something? Rosman’s story plays upon your assumptions, and before you get a handle on things, New Life changes to a dual perspective.

Elsa (Sonya Wagner) is an agent who works for a highly deep-cover agency tasked with tracking Jess down at all costs. However, she’s struggling with difficulties of her own—intensely looking into a bathroom mirror, Elsa is currently dealing with the early symptoms of ALS. It’s both a mental and physical battle she fights with as it progresses throughout the film. But this job gives her something to focus on, possibly prolonging what’s coming. From there, the table is set in what you’ll think is a regular search and arrest narrative. But Rosman slowly shows his cards about why these two characters are more alike than you’d think. When we think of stories like ‘The Last of Us’ and ‘28 Days Later,’ it’s mainly from the perspective of those who are left behind and trying to well…stay alive and not become one of the infected. ‘New Life’ brings a contained story of mortality together with a ticking clock before the peak of an outbreak happens.  


While Jessica is settled in a small town, there’s always a hint of paranoia that never lets up because who could she trust to get to her ultimate destination? In almost the same wavelength, Elsa hides her condition from her superior Raymond (Tony Amendola) and work partner Vince (Jeb Berrier) from sheer denial to show she’s still at the top of her class. The film tries to establish an NSA-secret agent-like subplot intertwined with giving Elsa someone to talk to before the big reveal comes. Her character, in particular, is best served once she is able to detach from that. In brief flashbacks, Rosman shows Jess’s backstory and why it’s so essential to the danger of the entire plotline (I won’t spoil that). There’s something beautiful and tragic about having this feature occur amongst the sprawling mountainside of Oregon, where the vastness seems so freeing. After a while, these characters realize that it’s a false promise. Elsa’s comfort arises from playing Bob Dylan’s 1965 hit, “Like a Rolling Stone,” as a grounding technique, but the famed chorus takes on another meaning when you consider what she’s going through. The same could be said for Jess, running from place to place from a fate that will eventually catch up to her. With the film that relies heavily on its small scale, Erin and Wagner both nail the urgency of their characters nicely. 

When you make plans, life has a weird way of altering them with random chance. It may feel like cruelty to take a life you once knew and shake it up without being able to put the pieces in their rightful places. ‘New Life’ combines them with bursts of blood and fury, but the tenseness provides some emotional brevity to push it past a theme we’re familiar with.