Directed by Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo
2009 – 103 Minutes/Widescree
DVD Provided by Anchor Bay Entertainment
Article written by Mark Engle
Anna has relationship issues, mainly with her boyfriend Paul, who just got a promotion and plans to ask her hand in marriage. Before he can even show her the ring, she assumes he is dumping her, storms off upset and gets in a car accident. Poor Paul goes home with a little too much wine in him and sleeps off the horrible night while Anna wakes up the next morning on a table slab in the funeral home. It’s here she meets Eliot Deacon, the funeral director, who explains she’s been in an accident, she is dead, and he is preparing her body for her final rest. Anna doesn’t find this too acceptable and wants out. Boyfriend Paul is also having a hard time accepting the situation and wants to get inside the funeral home to see her. This is the basic premise in the interesting AFTER.LIFE.
The use of word “interesting” is the best way to sum up this thriller. Everything is professionally done. Our three leads, Christina Ricci as Anna, Justin Long as the boyfriend Paul, and Liam Neeson as funeral director Eliot Deacon all turn in credible performances. The funeral home is an ominous force all on its own, beautiful in structure, but menacingly aged and cold. The premise is solid, if not far-fetched by the time you reach the conclusion and reminded me of the famous newspaper article about the girl talking from her coffin after dying in a drunken car crash that most of our parents made us read back in the early 80’s. There are some interesting ghostly effects, not to mention a creepy labyrinth under the funeral home dream sequence. Fans of Ricci get to see her in the buff, a lot, granted paler than when she was Wednesday in the ADAM’S FAMILY films.
So why not use adjectives like “haunting” and “creepy” because it sometimes succeeds in both departments? Well, the frustration kills the mood. Everything depends on the setup for whatever happens around the corner. But for every setup, the payoff is just another setup for the final twist. Most of it ends up ringing somewhat false. Similar in fashion to SIXTH SENSE, yet there we believed in the characters and they never made rash decisions that worked against their character development. Another frustrating character development is how the women of the story are handled. Every single one is irrational and spends most of their time being a total bitch. It’s hard to feel for Ricci’s Anna when she repeatedly doesn’t like anything or anyone, even during the opening moments before the accident occurs. The ladies are colder than the evil that takes place onscreen. Yikes! I was shocked when I discovered this was actually written and directed by a female.
There are hints along the way that keep you interested in seeing the outcome, however they are pretty obvious. I was just invested enough to see if my original ideas were correct (they were, by the way). Unfortunately with most thrillers, whether the story has a supernatural twist or not, the element of surprise needs to feel real while the plot seems to come out of left field. With AFTER.LIFE, the whole thing starts in left field and stays there, causing the twists to seem predictable and forced. Although the final act has some exciting moments and a sense of dread, the viewer may feel like he or she is watching a step-by-step montage of paint by numbers rather than true art.
A macabre subplot emerges involving a young boy that befriends Anna, who happens to be his school teacher. He's first intrigued by death, but as Anna’s funeral date approaches, he becomes obsessed and ends up being Eliot Deacon's student in talking with the dead. One has to wonder how interesting this dynamic could have been if it was combined with the final act twists and played out within Deacon's fantasies rather than being a real character. Unfortunately, since his character has actual interactions with both Anna and the mourning boyfriend Paul (causing one of the movie's most intense scenes), it’s merely another matter of fact element that probably could have been more suspenseful.
AFTER.LIFE ends up being mildly atmospheric, contains a nude Christina Ricci, an interesting but failed subplot, a little gore, predictable twists, and by the numbers suspense scenes. Overall, this doesn't sound very strong for a thriller, but it does manage to hold up for at least a single viewing due to decent performances and a great shooting location with the funeral home. Anchor Bay's transfer is very crisp and above board, which is as it should be, considering this is a new release. Extras include trailers, director commentary, and a behind-the-scenes featurette that is short but interesting (there's that word again). Neither scary or very thought-provoking, I can only give AFTER.LIFE and mild recommendation to genre fans.