Frightfest: New Life (2023)

Director: John Rosman

Running Time: 85 Minutes

Starring: Hayley Erin, Sonya Walger, Tony Amendola, Ayanna Berkshire, Nick George, Jeb Berrier, Blaine Palmer

Sounds of panicked breathing open the film before viewers see the source, as Jessica (Hayley Erin) walks with purpose while dried blood is on her face. She enters her home to wash-up and change clothes, stopping to mournfully gaze at a picture of fond memories before making a quick escape once armed men enter the house. Why is she on the run? Writer/Director John Rosman keeps his cards close to his chest, furthering the mystery by introducing Elsa (Sonya Walger), a brilliant fixer battling ALS who has been assigned to stop Jessica from crossing the border. What unfolds is a compelling cat and mouse game which drip-feeds revelations to viewers.

While the dual leads may work against each-other, interesting parallels are drawn as both face new lives which neither asked for. While Jessica perseveres to escape from past trauma involving confinement, the passage of time leaves Elsa feeling imprisoned within her body and forced to adapt. The combination of touching character work and tremendous performances helps bring alive this pair, keeping viewers invested regardless of the on-screen occurrences.

As Jessica experiences the kindness of humanity through meeting new people, Elsa is on her trail with entirely different experiences that horrifically sours the previous kindness. Hampering the fixer is a struggle at adapting to her diagnosis, as the subject slips through her fingers whenever she gets close. This adds difficulty to her staying on top of this explosive case, with the damage being greater than initially imagined. Failure holds catastrophic consequences, as shown through the tremendous practical effects conveying unforgettable horrors.

Visual flourishes are inserted to convey the government cracking down to finish this job, including dictating conversations and expansive searches for their target. What's key to this story is tragedy, as lives are thrown into disarray by humanity avoiding clear warnings and exploring areas which should be left alone. Yet a sliver of hope lies within, for while the lead's lives are drastically altered by circumstances out of their control, their lives can still be lived as diagnosis does not mean the end. It's a hopeful message found within a touching work that ventures down bleak avenues.

New Life made its European Premiere at Frightfest 2023