A tension-filled, elegant horror tale that will lead to audience debates long after the film is over.
Anchor Bay Films
Reviewed for MovieWeb by Harvey Karten
Directed by: Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo
Written By: Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, Paul Vosloo, Jakub Korolczuk
Cast: Liam Neeson, Christina Ricci, Justin Long, Josh Charles, Chandler Canterbury, Celia Weston
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 3/10/10
Opens: April 9, 2010
If ever a product placement for an industry permeates a movie without the industry's even being mentioned, trust "After.Life" to be a commercial for the cremation business. We witness the gruesome method of one possibly psychotic mortician-how he drains the blood, sews the mouth closed, puts huge needles into the necks of the dead as part of the embalming process, then adds rouge and lipstick to make corpses look as though they were live. All of this is carried on quietly by a calm, seasoned undertaker who has papered the wall of his laboratory with the people he has worked on.
If you get the impression that "After.Life" is essentially a horror movie, you'd be correct, but it's an elegant one with just a few of the conventional scares and false alarms on which cheaper and unintentionally funny movies rely. This is a great full-length start for Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloos, directing her freshman feature presentation. Her previous film, the 30-minute Pâté, is likewise a dark drama, that one featuring a deranged, insect-loving mother and her children.
With Paul Haslinger's original music pumping up considerable tension, Anastas N. Michos films the proceedings in and around Jersey City, particularly in the spacious home of Eliot Deacon (Liam Neeson), the town's mortician who is currently working over Anna Taylor (Christina Ricci), who has just died in an auto accident after a tumultuous verbal fight with her boyfriend, Paul (Justin Long). Anna, a teacher before her alleged death (and the word "alleged" is significant here because the film allows the audience to debate the matter during and after the close of the story), "wakes up" and begins to converse with Deacon. Deacon, you see, claims the gift of being able to speak to the dead during a "transitional" stage, when a body is spending a few days merely preparing for the final journey into full-scale demise.
Throughout the conversation, Deacon insists on being frank about death, regularly saying that "you people" never accept the tragedy but insist that they are fully alive, held captive by a crazed mortician. The bulk of the picture consists of the conversations between Deacon and Anna, the former insisting that the deceased recognize her departed condition, the latter demanding to be let out of what she considers an insane asylum. More robust physical activity finds boyfriend Paul demanding that the police, headed by Captain Tom Henderson (Josh Charles, who is also "The Good Wife"'s Will Gardner), take out a search warrant to vet the mortician's lab, while the young woman's mother, Beatrice Taylor (Celia Weston) accepts the fact that her daughter is dead but blames the young man for allowing her to drive at night in the pouring rain. Chandler Canterbury performs in the role of Jack, who also has the gift of speaking with the dead, recalling Haley Joel Osment's role as Cole Sear in M. Night Shayamalan's "The Sixth Sense," while the scariest scene of all brings to mind the excellent Dutch horror movie, George Sluizer's "Spoorloos," or "The Vanishing."
Liam Neeson proves that the best actors are those who can play restrained roles credibly and with class, and Christina Ricci, who looks better than ever in long hair, matches Neeson's talent. "After.Life" is elegant, scary, and perhaps best of all does not allow us to check our brains at the door. Expect discussions that will bring in Freud's concept of the death wish with its insistence that many people, more afraid of life (especially love) than death, will opt for the latter.
Rated R. 95 minutes. © 2010 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online