After Life (2009)
Directed by: Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo | 103 minutes | drama, thriller | Actors: Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson, Justin Long, Chandler Canterbury, Josh Charles, Celia Weston, Shuler Hensley, Laurel Bryce, Laurie Cole, Mark Gerrard, Anna Kuchma, Malachy McCourt, Rosemary Murphy, Bill Perkins, Luz Alexandra Ramos, Barbara Singer
Oprah Winfrey still insists on it in her talk show: no texting behind the wheel! Teacher Anna (Christina Ricci) does it anyway and wakes up on Eliot’s (Liam Neeson’s) prep table. He tells her that she has passed away and is in the transition zone between the realm of the living and the realm of the dead. Anna can’t believe it. That is not so strange, if you are having a conversation and you are fully aware of your surroundings. No matter how much Eliot tries to convince Anna that she really is dead and can only talk to him because he has a special gift, the doubt remains. “Your dead are all the same too,” grumbles the undertaker.
Then there’s Anna’s friend Paul (Justin Long). Plagued by visions and overcome with guilt over their latest fight, he struggles to accept the death of his loved one. When one of Anna’s students (Chandler Canterbury) also claims to have seen her live, Paul becomes convinced that something strange is going on. Unfortunately, no one is willing to listen to him. It is not possible to say goodbye to Anna’s body, because “that is only for close family”. You read that right, as a partner you have no rights and you have to wait until the funeral. Even befriended police officers think so, but of course Paul does not resign himself to such a plot hole. He must and will know if Anna is still alive.
Director Wojtowicz-Vosloo says she already had a morbid fascination with death as a child. You won’t be surprised when you see ‘After.Life’. The film is largely set in a funeral home and all techniques to make a corpse presentable to the next of kin are reviewed, from sewing the mouth shut to camouflage injuries. Poor Christina Ricci! In ‘Black Snake Moan’ she was chained up, in ‘After.Life’ she lies naked on a table with a blood gutter. For an actress an excellent opportunity to go emotionally to the hole, you would think, but that does not happen. Given the circumstances, Anna is still taking it all well. That is why it is mainly Liam Neeson who attracts attention as a dedicated gravedigger.
The theme of ‘After.Life’, which we will not reveal here, requires that the main characters are not too vibrant in life. The downside of that is that you don’t really care what happens to them. The distant character sketches, the sterile setting and the gruesome images make ‘After.Life’ cold viewing food that will evoke an uneasy feeling in many people. But even if you can appreciate that dark atmosphere, the thriller still disappoints. It is clear that Vosloo is filming a self-written story here and that he wanted to cram too many loose ideas for scenes into one film. As a result, ‘After.Life’, despite its intriguing premise, succumbs to a lack of coherence. Some cutting and pasting can sometimes work wonders. Eliot’s clients can have a say in that.