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- Movie: After.Life
- Rating: R
- Starring: Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson, Justin Long, Chandler Canterbury, Celia Weston and Josh Charles
- Written By: Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, Paul Vosloo and Jakub Korolczuk
- Directed By: Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo
- Distributor: Anchor Bay Films
After.Life Movie Review
More Dead Than Alive
By Rob Vaux
April 09, 2010
© Bob Trate
For a good hour or so, After.Life really holds us in its grasp. The chilling basic concept provides ample opportunity for graveyard shudders and esoteric philosophizing alike, aided by a talented cast who devote themselves fully to the cause. Then, slowly, the mechanistic aspects of the plot screw it all up. It becomes more interested in toying with us than letting us participate as equals, whiplashing the audience from one supposition to the next without concern for the damage it inflicts in the process. Coupled with a would-be twist ending and a nasty sense of smugness, it sinks the formerly intriguing project hopelessly beneath the waves.
You wouldn't suspect a thing as the film unfolds. A young school teacher named Anna (Christina Ricci) stomps out of a restaurant after an argument with her boyfriend (Justin Long). A short time later, she wakes up on the slab at the local mortuary. The kind-eyed funeral director (Liam Neeson) informs her that she died in a car accident and that he's preparing her body for burial. An intense, brutal duel of wits follows, as Anna insists she's still among the living and her would-be mortician firmly maintains that she's not.
We the audience don't know for certain; either Neeson is right, in which case he's a sympathetic psychic here to help her to the other side, or Ricci is, in which case she's in the hands of a seriously twisted serial killer. Director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo toys elegantly with the question while keeping Long's grieving boyfriend in the picture by allowing him to sense Anna's lingering presence. In the process, After.Life develops a marvelous meditation on how little we value our existence while we have it, and what might be waiting for us after we're gone. Ricci proves quite fearless in the lead, while Neeson's combination of would-be empathy and menacing physical presence keeps us guessing as to his actual purpose and motivation.
Then the roof caves in. Too many times, the ugly specter of logic mucks up the proceedings, asking impertinent questions which After.Life doesn't want to answer. One of Anna's young students (Chandler Canterbury) enters the picture, a possible savior who nonetheless embodies the "creepy little kid" cliché that bad horror films just can't resist. Long flounders about aimlessly, attempting to give voice to our questions, but denied anywhere fruitful to take them. And almost imperceptibly, the "is she alive or dead" equation takes over the entire affair. The exquisite early philosophizing and haunting atmosphere vanish, replaced by thudding storyline mechanics and an increasingly preposterous series of events intended to defer the answer until the final scene.
Even then, it might have worked if After.Life treated the issue with any kind of respect. In order for its dilemma to hold our attentions, it needs to let us figure things out fairly and not toss in goofy details just to baffle us. But the final third confounds our expectations in such an arbitrary (and borderline insulting) way that our investment in the outcome ceases to matter. We grow so tired of being jerked around that we divest from the proceedings entirely… which is probably a good thing since the bargain-basement horror chestnuts crop up fast and thick in the third act.
Wojtowicz-Vosloo maintains an excellent sense of tone, and her use of the camera suggests a genuine talent in the making. But for this, her first outing, she proves too timid in the last third to close the deal on her otherwise admirable efforts. She should have stuck with her instincts and gone for broke instead of trying to hedge her bets; it might not have succeeded, but at least it wouldn't have made After.Life the dreadful disappointment it finally turns out to be.