After.Life, with a pretentious decimal point between the two words in the title for no explainable reason, is a horror film with a macabre style but few of the creepy chills of cheaper, cliché-riddled thrillers that are a dime a dozen these days. That is not a recommendation, just a mild salutation to writer-director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo. In her feature film debut, she proves she knows her way around a morgue, but her future seems dubious. No danger of becoming a household favorite with a name like that.
Christina Ricci plays a pretty Jersey City elementary school teacher named Anna who is killed in a horrible car accident in a rainstorm, she is pronounced dead by the coroner and sent to a slab in the autopsy lab of Eliot Deacon, the psychotic, soft-spoken town mortician (would you believe Liam Neeson in a role Boris Karloff was born to play?) in preparation for an open-casket viewing. There’s only one problem: Anna is still alive. Or at least she thinks she is. Eight hours after being declared dead, she opens her eyes and insists it’s all been a mistake. Totally nonchalant about carrying on a conversation with a dead body, the undertaker hovers over her, locks the exits and refuses to admit Anna’s boyfriend Paul (Justin Long) when he demands to see her one last time. Deacon tells Anna she’s a corpse, albeit a reluctant one. Maybe she is. “I’m not dead,” she protests. The funeral director retorts, “That’s what you all say.” Refusing to believe she’s worm bait even after the funeral director produces her death certificate, she tries every key she can find to escape, and the movie plods on as Neeson prepares embalming fluid and babbles on about his special talent for conversing with the dead—a “gift” shared by the little boy who hyperventilates when it comes time to lower the casket into the grave. A cop eventually shows up, but all he wants to do is cop a look at Ricci’s breasts under the shroud.
So just what is going one here? Is she a corpse who won’t play by the rules? Or is she the prisoner of a raving lunatic who decorates the walls of his home with photos of all the people he’s buried? Is the setting, with its clanking doors and rooms filled with cadavers, really an insane asylum? Do you care? Everyone is curious about what happens after death, but you won’t learn anything here. I’d like to say it’s riveting, but unfortunately I found it quite repetitious and boring. Neeson tries hard to reveal a rarely seen aspect of his artistic versatility as a gruesome Dr. Caligari (I guess horror flicks can also be fun for distinguished actors on occasional slumming expeditions). Against cinematographer Anastas Michos’ odd angle shots through shattered glass or scanned across darkly lit slabs of blue, bloodless bodies, Ricci plays the whole movie slashed with cherry red lipstick, in either a red satin slip or totally nude. Very little is shown, including the accident.
Before rigor mortis sets in, you are, however, treated to the detailed work of the undertaker: close-ups of darning needles sewing stitches through wounds, draining blood into buckets, sewing the mouth closed with threads thick as shoelaces, foot-long hypodermics jammed into jugulars to give the flesh more color and taking measurements to select the correct coffin.
I have no idea what the significance of After.Life is, or to which market it aims to appeal. It’s too dull for grown-ups and too nightmarish for children.