'After.Life' Movie Review

After.Life movie poster
Anchor Bay

After.Life is one of those curious movies with A-list talent but B-list distribution. Since signing Kate Bosworth and Alfred Molina to star in 2007 (with Bosworth's likeness even appearing in an early draft of the movie poster), the film has traveled through Hollywood red tape and development Hell. Eventually Christina Ricci and Liam Neeson where chosen as headliners in 2008. It was scheduled as a Halloween 2009 feature but was pushed back to a VERY limited April 2010 release. It's hard not to wonder if such flux is indicative of a film's quality and in the case of After.Life, sadly, it is.

The Plot

Anna Taylor (Ricci) is an elementary school teacher who's been feeling out of sorts. While feeling distant from boyfriend Paul (Justin Long), she gets the occasional bloody nose, has a sense that something's following her, and pops pills just to get through the day.

She's in such a rut that she decides to dye her hair red for a dinner date. However, thanks to a misunderstanding, things don't go as expected at dinner, and Anna storms off in a huff, leaving Paul on the verge of proposing. Tragically, he never gets the chance, as Anna dies in a car accident on her way home that night.

Or does she? Anna awakens in a funeral home, seemingly very much alive, but she's greeted by mortician Eliot Deacon (Neeson), who informs her that she is indeed dead. He says that he is a "ghost whisperer" of sorts who can speak to the dead and is there to help usher her quietly into the hereafter. But Anna is understandably resistant, insisting that she can't be dead. "You all say the same thing," Deacon declares, having done this sort of afterlife chaperoning countless times before.

Paul, meanwhile, is distraught about Anna's death and increasingly unravels as he sees visions of her haunting him. When Jack (Chandler Canterbury), a former student of Anna's, informs Paul that he saw her walking around the funeral home, Paul becomes convinced that she's still alive. However, Deacon won't allow non-family members to view the body. Unable to convince the police that something fishy is going on, Paul takes it upon himself to rescue Anna before she's buried... alive?

The End Result

It's easy to see how big-name talents like Neeson, Ricci, and Long (not to mention popular character actors Josh Charles and Celia Weston) would be drawn to After.Life. It has an intriguing premise that explores the nature of life and death with a refined eye that eschews much of the gratuitous content that so often stigmatizes horror movies (granted, Ricci appears nude or semi-nude for most of the film). But the journey from concept to reality is a long one, and After.Life loses its way, becoming increasingly muddled, lethargic and annoying as it plays out.

Part of the problem is that there's not enough story here to sustain a feature. After.Life plays like a 30-minute episode of stretched to 90 minutes, padded by pseudo-deep conversations about the purpose of life, nonsensical dream sequences, frustratingly indirect dialogue and contrived plot elements designed to keep the "is she dead or not" mystery going. What seems like every scene presents a new clue as to Anna's true state that contradicts the previous clue, and the constant toying becomes so wearisome that you stop bothering to figure it out.

Of course, that's not hard to do, given that the overly severe, thinly drawn characters are already marginally likable, to begin with. You get the sense that there's something bubbling beneath the surface of each of them, but first-time writer/director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo rarely digs deep, preferring to set up what amounts to an annoying guessing game that's never explicitly resolved. In the end, we get the sense that Wojtowicz-Vosloo wants us to lean one way about Anna's dead-or-not fate, but the story's largely ornamental trappings actually make more sense the other way. Regardless, there's so little human connection in the story (and conversely so many red herrings) that you just don't care about what happens to the characters. (The "dot" title itself is indicative of the unnecessary, borderline pretentious nature of the content.)

The most interesting character actually turns out to be Jack, the bullied schoolboy who gets too little screen time. In the presence of such prominent co-stars, Canterbury is the standout actor, his mature-beyond-his-years performance making the mystery of his existence (Is he psychic? What's with his home life?) more compelling than Anna's. It doesn't hurt his cause that the rest of the cast under-performs, particularly the lethargic Ricci and Long, who (in a role essentially identical to his turn in Drag Me to Hell) overreaches in the most emotionally demanding moments.

After.Life isn't a worthless venture, however. Part of what makes it so frustrating is that it has so much potential. The concept is wonderfully twisted, the cast is stellar and Wojtowicz-Vosloo's direction displays an artistic eye that crafts some striking visual moments (unfortunately, a couple of scenes are hindered by mediocre CGI effects). But what seemed like a winner when it was being planned in 2007 unravels in the 2010 final product, which goes a long way to explaining why its release is so limited.

The Skinny

  • Acting: C (Generally underwhelming.)
  • Direction: C+ (Displays some artistry, but there's little emotion or scares.)
  • Script: C- (Intriguing concept but frustratingly vague and shallow.)
  • Gore/Effects: C- (Mediocre computer graphics feel unfinished.)
  • Overall: C (An attractive but annoying and repetitive thriller that presents a mystery we don't really care about.)

After.Life is directed by Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo and is rated R by the MPAA for nudity, disturbing images, language and brief sexuality. Release date: April 9, 2010.

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