by Mel Valentin
Whatís worse than being a horror fan? Actually, that question assumes that thereís something bad or negative about being horror fan, but taking the premise at face value, the answer is simple: being a discriminating horror fan (e.g., caring about story quality, character development, originality, etc.). Case in point, "After.Life," a psychological horror film starring an oft-naked Christina Ricci as a recently deceased woman in denial and Liam Neeson as the caring funeral director dedicated to helping her move on to the next, presumably better after life. Maybe. First-time director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo (who co-wrote "After.Life" with her husband Paul Vosloo and Jakub Korolczuk), attempts to wring a feature length film out of a slim, shallow premise, ultimately failing to make "After.Life" more than just an overlong "Twilight Zone" or "Masters of Horror" episode (and boring the audience in the meantime).After.Life centers primarily on Anna Taylor (Christina Ricci), a twenty-something woman prone to dark moods, nose bleeds (which are never explained), and over-medicating herself (again, unexplained). A school teacher by profession, Anna takes a special interest in Jack (Chandler Canterbury), an odd, lonely boy desperate for human interaction (aside from the general bullying he receives every day from other boys, that is). Jackís mother refuses to engage him (or maybe canít) instead preferring long hours in front of an old black-and-white television set while she watches 40-year old variety shows. Annaís life outside of school is defined by a turbulent relationship with her boyfriend, Paul (Justin Long), an attorney, and her non-relationship with her mother, Beatrice (Celia Weston).
"In which I'm bored by Christina Ricci's nakedness."
On the same night she visits a funeral home to pay her last respects to an old (as in senior citizen old) piano teacher, she joins Paul at an expensive restaurant for dinner. She misinterprets Paulís actions, assuming he wants to break up with her (he wants to propose). Distraught and distracted (by her cell phone), she drives away in a rainstorm, only to "reawakenĒ in the same funeral home she visited earlier. The funeral homeís director, Eliot Deacon (Liam Neeson), reveals that Anna has died and claims he can talk to the dead. His mission, as he sees it, is to prepare the souls and bodies of the dead for their passage into the afterlife. As Annaís funeral approaches, she begins to accept her death (and Deacon's role in her passage into the afterlife) just as Paulís suspicions that Anna is still alive and being held captive by Deacon begin to increase.
The ads for After.Life suggest that weíre watching either a psychological horror film or a supernatural horror film, depending on whether Deacon is telling the truth or lying about his identity (and his intentions). Whether weíre in a horror film without a supernatural element or a horror film with a supernatural element is the question that lingers over After.Life from the moment we meet Deacon and, later, when a seemingly alive (and often very naked Anna) questions whether Deacon is telling her the truth or playing a twisted game with her. Itís a question that After.Life answers definitely before the end credits roll, but itís one even non-discerning moviegoers will figure out early on.
That means, unsurprisingly, that without a central, overarching mystery, After.Life has little else going for it. Christina Ricci may be a beautiful woman in or out of clothes, but sheís spent long periods before naked (in, most recently, Black Snake Moan), so itís not exactly daring. In fact, After.Life quickly becomes dull and unengaging, regardless of Ricciís level of undress, growing stale through repetition. Deacon seems to have the exact same conversation with Anna several times, each time to diminishing returns. Paulís character, a role similar to the one Justin Long played in last yearís Drag Me to Hell, has zero depth, making him a character we donít want to follow or cheer on during the inevitable confrontation with Deacon. That lack of depth also extends to Wojtowicz-Voslooís attempts at profundity (they fail, categorically).Itís not all bad (relatively speaking, of course). Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo seems to have a firm sense of visual composition (e.g., production design, color, lighting, camera movement) and while the pacing drags noticeably several times due to the need to stretch out the limited premise, she crafts several memorable scenes. Even there, though, she walks away from creating scares (of the jump or other variety) instead preferring to emphasize mood and atmosphere, both creepy. She also manages to get restrained performances from everyone in her cast (with the exception of Longís histrionic character), so the potential is there, for Wojtowicz-Vosloo to do better next time (assuming there is a next time), hopefully with a less twist-dependent script.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=20201&reviewer=402
originally posted: 04/09/10 18:37:58