DIRECTED BY: Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo
FEATURING: Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson, Justin Long
PLOT: A funeral director must convince an accident victim that she is really dead.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: I took a look at After.Life to determine its weird potential, but aside from the macabre story, I found it be a fairly conventionally psychological thriller.
COMMENTS: Despite the pretentious dot in the middle of the title, After.Life turns out to be a well-made, offbeat picture. Christina Ricci, while no Ingrid Bergman, delivers a credible performance even though she is slashed with cherry red lipstick and alternately nude or scantily draped in a clingy, scarlet satin slip for most of the movie.
After a violent car crash, Anna Taylor (Ricci) wakes up on a slab in a mortuary (where else?) Eliot Deacon, a psychic undertaker (Neeson) must talk her into cooperating with the embalming process and mentally preparing herself for the afterlife.
Blessed/cursed with the gift of second sight which allows him to see the spirits of the deceased, Deacon is exasperated that he must argue and wrestle with every one of his dead clients, none of whom are at first willing accept the reality of their deaths. Conversing with Deacon, Anna, like her predecessors, refuses to believe she’s dead despite his assurance that she’s in transition to the spirit realm, and that he’s the only one who can help her make the leap into the uncertain beyond
While sill on the steel gurney in the embalming room, Anna has several sinister forays into the ethereal plain to which she is about to permanently transcend. Frightened, uncertain, and unwilling to depart this dimension to venture into the next, she requires a good bit of coaxing from Deacon. Anna is a hard case and she makes quite a fuss. Deacon has his hands full dealing with her and she proves to be his most uncooperative stiff to date.
Matters are complicated when Anna’s mooky boyfriend (Long) shows up demanding to view her body for closure. Deacon manages to run him off, but the pesky beau just can’t seem to stay away. He becomes a fly in the pickling balm when he insists upon clinging to the outrageous assertion that Anna is not really dead.
Because she looks pretty darn hot for a dead gal.
After.Life is a different kind of supernatural movie. Billed as a horror film, it is really a mystery-suspense. While there are some very scary moments and surreal glimpses of the beyond, the tone of the movie is more one of steadily mounting apprehension and dread. It’s disturbing, clever, well assembled and nicely shot, After.Life plays like an arty independent production with a Hollywood budget. It represents Polish feminist writer/director Agnieszka Wojtowicz’s debut mainstream effort.
Wojtowicz’s last production was the multimedia O Zlozony/O Composite for the Paris Opera Ballet on which she collaborated with feminist performance artist Laurie Anderson and choreographer Trisha Brown. A Tisch School Of The Arts graduate, Wojtowicz’s literate, artistic background is evident in the production style of After.Life.
The film has been criticized for resembling a stylish art-house piece more than a white-knuckle horror thriller. This is exactly what makes After.Life such an enjoyable viewing experience, and why I recommend it for an unconventional audience.
Several minor plot holes can easily be filled in with a little imagination on the part of the thinking viewer. Such patrons will readily forgive any lack of superficial Tinseltown sensationalism and appreciate After.Life as a chic, sleek, and thoughtful excursion into the macabre without the obligatory Hollywood formulas. I recommend After.Life for thriller enthusiasts who prefer the original Northern European versions of such films as Spoorloos (The Vanishing), Insomnia, and Let The Right One In over their dumbed-down American remakes.
A pensive audience isn’t who the distributors were targeting when they promoted the finished film, however. From the promotional materials I have seen, the producers clearly hoped that the presence of a wonderfully naked Christina Ricci would be enough to make me pay ten bucks to fill a seat—which it sure as hell was, the fact that After.Life turned out to be a gem being a bonus.
In an interview with Women and Hollywood’s Melissa Silverstein, writer/director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, said:
“A number of actresses were interested in the role. Frankly, there’s still such a lack of interesting roles for women. Christina was intrigued by the character. She was fascinated by the idea that maybe our consciousness remains with us after we die and you’re able to reflect on your life, which in Anna’s case wasn’t fully lived to say the least. Even though After.Life is a psychological thriller, for Christina it was a character piece of sorts . . .
” . . .I always had this image in my head of a woman on a slab and a mortician standing over her. The woman who should be dead speaks, and the mortician calmly responds to her. It was a powerful idea to me.”
A movie with a mostly nude Ricci iin a Pygmalion situation is a powerful idea to me, Ms. Wojtowicz-Vosloo, and I think she’s equally hot alive or dead.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…some of its images of imprisonment—not to mention injection and evacuation—stay with you, like it or not. But the dialogue is clumsy, the tone swings between somber and silly and the whole bizarre venture eventually succumbs to rigor mortis.”–Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal (contemporaneous)