PLOT: Anna Taylor is a young woman in a loveless relationship. She is wandering through life until she finds herself in a terrible accident. When she finally wakes up, she is greeted by a mortician. He explains to her that she was killed and that he has the gift to see and speak to the dead. Not ready to accept her death, he explains to her that it is a very natural reaction. But as time passes, she begins to question if she is truly not one of the living, or simply held captive by a sinister madman.
Back in 1993, a strange and controversial film entitled BOXING HELENA was released to a disenchanted public. The film, directed by Jennifer Lynch had a very intriguing set up, but couldn’t help fall much too deep into camp. Now, in 2010, there is a film with similar problems to Helena, yet it still manages to offer a couple of chills. AFTER.LIFE is the story of Anna Taylor (Christina Ricci), a schoolteacher who is having some issues with her boyfriend Paul (Justin Long). She is clearly unhappy, but I can’t really say that we are given any real reason. Perhaps they are just too distant, or maybe it is her controlling mother (Celia Weston) who is driving them apart. It isn’t until the two have an explosive fight and Anna drives off into the night in hysterics that something changes for both Anna and Paul. She wakes up in a mortuary… dead.
When she opens her eyes, she finds the local mortician Eliot Deacon (Liam Neeson) peering over her. He explains that she has passed. This is where the problems will begin for some, partially for me. Say you wake up and someone tries to convince you that you’re dead. It almost seems like a sick prank, and maybe it is. And for the next hour or so, the truth is unraveled and we find out whether Deacon can actually see dead people, or if he is some sinister murderer. Again, this is a very intriguing premise. But so much of the time, we follow these two playing this odd little game, that the seriousness is barely contained. At one point, Anna finds a mirror; she asks Deacon, “Why do I look like a corpse?” Let’s just say there was a lot of laughter from the audience I was watching the film with, and I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the desired response.
Director and co-writer Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo has no problem developing a very dark atmosphere. For the first half hour, I was really expecting to enjoy it more than I did. I liked how he connected the characters, although I felt that Long was much too annoying as the boyfriend. I generally like Justin, but his Paul was bland and cried way too much. And as much as I liked the build-up, the film certainly pushed the envelope when it came to logic. Sure, it would be ridiculous to say that this should all be realistic, but the actions of Anna and everybody else for that matter seemed ludicrous. As charmingly low-key as Deacon was, I just didn’t believe how easily she was convinced to just lie there for days. Although I tend to think this could be a done incredibly well on stage. But as a film, the “tension” just didn’t hold up.
As for the two leads, I genuinely liked Neeson’s performance. He is a tremendous actor who somehow manages to make some of the over-the-top dialogue work. He is quite haunting as this strange man with questionable motives. Can he really talk to the dead? Does he hang out with Jennifer Love Hewitt and the kid from THE SIXTH SENSE? But sadly, with Christina Ricci, I didn’t care all that much about her alive or “dead”. This is a character that is so weak and irritating; it is hard to feel sympathy for her. Yes, she is quite beautiful (and oftentimes naked) in the role, but she truly seemed lifeless. And yes, without giving too much away, that was partially the point. But in the end, she simply wasn’t really that interesting of a character. The only time I really connected with her was during a couple of scenes with one of her young students, an odd little character named Jake (Chandler Canterbury).
While After.Life wore out its welcome slightly, I was impressed at its audacity and originality. There is humor spread throughout that worked, aside from the unintentionally funny. And while I didn’t find Anna that captivating of a character, I applaud Ricci’s fearlessness when it came to the role. Not only becasue she is completely nude for a large portion of the final act, but she was open to playing this flawed character. I guess I just didn’t feel Anna was written very convincingly. But thankfully, Neeson is on the mark per usual. Menacing when needed, yet sometimes he is thoughtful and almost fatherly, an interesting combination. Much like Boxing Helena, this film had a ton to say, but couldn’t quite find the right words. After.Life is a fascinating premise lost inside a meandering script. My rating 5/10 -- JimmyO