Reviewed by Mr. Dark
Starring Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson, Justin Long
Directed by Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo
Distributed by Anchor Bay
After.Life is a film that resides in a rather specific, unnamed sub-genre of film. With it are films like The Game, K-Pax, and Total Recall. They all rest on a specific question. Whether it’s ‘is it a game or not’ or ‘is he an alien or not’ or ‘is this just his virtual vacation or not’, the entire films revolve around one single question. Films like this are tricky to pull off. If you drive to the conclusion effectively and keep audiences guessing until the final reveal, you succeed.
How does After.Life do? Eh, not too well.
After.Life is the tale of Anna Taylor and her death. Or non-death. And that’s the rub. After a fight with her boyfriend, she storms off in tears on rain-slick roads and dies in a car accident. Or does she?
(cue dramatic music)
Waking up in a mortuary, she engages in a lengthy game of mental cat and mouse with a mortician named Deacon (Liam Neeson), who claims to have an amazing ability: to speak with the recently dead in his care and help them on their way. She doesn’t believe she is dead, which he says is common. With three days remaining until her funeral, Anna and Deacon engage in a struggle for either her life or her after-life.
The entire film, then, rests on a single question: Is Neeson the talented medium he claims to be or a twisted serial killer?
The problem plaguing After.Life is that it’s non-committal. In an apparent effort to keep people guessing, hints and clues in both directions are opened in fairly large numbers. Too many to keep track of, really. By the time the film reaches the third act, they’ve dug themselves a hole that no one could ever fill.
Upon finishing the film, I was honestly undecided as to whether they had even picked a side or just left things ambiguous. It was only after discussion with my wife that we sorted out, yes, they did indeed choose an answer. There’s just no way a film like this can succeed with that much ambiguity remaining when it isn’t intentional. They did choose an ending, unlike Total Recall or K-Pax. They just apparently had a hell of a time driving it home successfully and ultimately failed the task.
This is not to say that After.Life is a bad film. First-time feature director Agnieszka Vosloo clearly knows her way around a camera, and the film is solidly directed, save for a couple of throwaway bogus jump scares. Neeson and Justin Long (as Anna’s long-suffering boyfriend) turn in fine performances. Ricci doesn’t do badly but really doesn’t have much to work with. You WILL be kept guessing, which says that there is a story here. It just needed another rewrite or two and a more experienced director to weed out a few of the ‘McGuffins’ that plague the film’s climax.
A review of this film wouldn’t be complete without referring to one element that might just drive up revenue. Christina Ricci is naked in this film. I don’t mean she has a nude scene. In the opening seconds of the film, BAM, boobs. Other nudity sprinkled throughout. Then, a little after the halfway point, she gets naked on the slab and just stays that way until the climax.
I mention this not because I’m a perv, although I do resemble that remark, but because it’s actually more than a little gratuitous. I stopped counting the number of lingering pans up or down Ricci’s pale physique on the metal mortuary table. We aren’t talking about her lying idly on her back. She’s often lounging in positions straight out of Playboy’s Potentially Dead Playmates special. (One of my favorite issues, Creepy loaned me his copy.) There’s so much of it that I was left to wonder how much existed in the original shooting script and how much was added once they saw the script’s flaws I’ve mentioned here. Once news spreads, it’ll absolutely drive up interest, as she’s never done anything remotely this explicit. If you’re interested in such things and aren’t willing to wait until the inevitable screen caps hit the web, it might just be worth a matinee ticket.
In the end After.Life is a noble effort … and a frustrating one. There was the potential for a very good movie here. What we’re left with is simply a competent but disappointing thriller. With lots of naked Christina Ricci. Does one balance out the other? That’s for you to decide. As for me, that half a knife down there is for Ricci’s goosebumps. It didn’t make it worth it, but it certainly didn’t hurt the experience.
2 1/2 out of 5
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