Directed By: Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo
Starring: Christina Ricci, Justin Long, Liam Neeson, Chandler Canterbury
Everyone wonders what happens when you die. The fact that nobody knows the answer turns the concept of passing on into an everlasting goldmine of opportunity for the film industry. You can revisit the subject over and over and always come up with something new. After.Life certainly proposes a novel scenario, but bogs it down with cliche filmmaking techniques so much, you’ll be hoping we all just die and go to heaven; end of story.
Christina Ricci plays Anna, a somewhat happy teacher in a somewhat happy relationship. Her boyfriend Paul (Justin Long) is kind, caring and, most importantly, ready to propose. Upon sitting down to indulge in a special dinner, Paul spills the news that he’s been offered a better job at an out-of-town firm. Before he gets the chance to invite Anna along and pop the question, she storms out into, well, a storm. Slick roads and a flood of tears turns into a car accident landing Anna in the morgue.
She wakes up to meet Eliot Deacon (Liam Neeson), the funeral director and a self-proclaimed guide for those stuck between life and death. Anna is convinced her breath is a sign of life, but Eliot repeatedly informs her this is a common misconception and that he is the only one capable of communicating with her. His power of persuasion is forceful and Anna begins to doubt her will to live.
It’s too bad you never care whether or not Anna dies. From the beginning of the film, she’s completely unlikable. She’s lucky enough to have a committed boyfriend, yet cannot appreciate his devoutness and constantly instigates arguments. At least her more nurturing side is revealed at school. Well, up until the point she abandons poor little Jack (Chandler Canterbury) in the parking lot when he doesn’t even have a ride home. The most painful moment is the one in the restaurant and not because it leads to her death. Everyone is guilty of picking an unnecessary fight in the heat of a moment, but there’s no heat to this moment and it feels forced.
Things will get better once Neeson gets some screen time, right? Somewhat. It’s common knowledge that Neeson has a knack for playing darker characters, whether they’re good or evil. In this case, that denomination is left to the imagination for the majority of the film. He puts on a fantastic show as the conflicted funeral director, causing you to yearn for Anna to escape his clutches one minute, yet embrace him the next. Long also puts his character’s moments to good use. Considering Eliot is devoid of emotion, Long’s ability to let the tears flow is particularly effective. The two so outshine Ricci, you’ll ache for Anna to just walk into the light or whatever it is she has to do to move on.
Anna is the burden that completely drags down After.Life. In order to make the film a thriller, there needs to be a sense of suspense. When you don’t care if the main player survives, achieving peril is impossible. The sole concept keeping After.Life the slightest bit afloat is curiosity. The film is more successful as a mystery. In that genre it fairs well until the end, which is utterly unfulfilling.
The premise of After.Life has such potential, but is rendered wholly ineffective by almost all parties involved. The most serious offenses are committed by writer-director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo and co-writer Paul Vosloo. The story plays out as though they just threw down ideas as they came to them. Nothing quite fits, making it difficult to put the pieces together. The directing Vosloo is guilty of the worst crime of all, assuming the audience is ignorant. Everything is force-fed. Vosloo uses flickering lights, lightning storms, syringes and one too many shots of red liquid, blood and hair dye, going down a drain to drill into your brain that something bad is on the horizon. These visual truisms are easily dismissed, but when the same technique is used to force an emotional reaction, all connection is lost. After.Life simply tries too hard.
By Perri Nemiroff