In many ways the strange new horror flick After.Life feels like something I'd come across at a film festival: It comes from a first-time writer director; it looks lovely but sounds kinda goofy; it has a strong handful of familiar faces, as well as a novel enough "hook" ... and yet it's still one of those festival films I'd feel a little lukewarm on. It's half-clever and half-silly, and it never manages to congeal into a viable whole. In concept, in look, and in a few isolated moments After.Life is pretty darn compelling. As a whole, it's kind of a different story...
Christina Ricci plays an unpleasant young woman named Anna who has recently died in a car accident. She "awakens" on a coroner's slab, which is weird enough -- but if she's dead, then how can she still look around? Even weirder: if she's dead, then how can the coroner (Liam Neeson) have a conversation with her? More questions: how is it that the recently-demised schoolteacher has a student who can still sense her life force? And why is her boyfriend (Justin Long) so weirdly convinced that Anna's death was staged by the coroner? Few of these questions (and less) are answered as After.Life unravels.
Writer / director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo seems both challenged and stymied by the concept, and she spends an inordinate amount of time focused on the broadly portentous exchanges between the bitter Anna and the flatly malevolent coroner. Their conversations come off as dime-store ruminations on the nature of death, loss, and (you guessed it) the importance of appreciating life before you end up as a half-naked corpse on a chilly slab. Despite the novelty of seeing Christina Ricci and Liam Neeson participate in such a strange little thriller, After.Life frequently comes across as dry, obvious, and slightly silly -- instead of the intended goal of chilling, insightful, and sincere.
Neeson, hardly the most "vibrant" actor even in the most caffeinated of performances, does a rather glum trudge through much of the film. Ricci, for her part, spends a lot of time whining and a little time moralizing, but is generally just tossed onto the slab in various stages of strangely off-putting undress. (In other words, she spends a lot of time naked in this flick, but very little of the nudity is A) titillating or B) otherwise dramatically impactful.) Fortunately Justin Long shows up pretty often to get angry, overwrought, or violent, and that's fairly fun, plus we also get Josh Charles as an ineffectual cop and Celia Weston as Anna's callously uncaring mother.
But without the colorful cast, one senses that After.Life would have never made it off the shelf. The whole "don't bury me, I'm not dead!"* concept has been well covered by this point, and After.Life manages to be neither the smartest nor the silliest of this ilk. The flick is just sorta ... there. Its attempts at depth and its philosophies on death are nothing new to those who focus on the more cerebral horror flicks out there, and while After.Life certainly earns points for visual composition and its intended goal of actually "saying" something, the end result is a fairly basic Twilight Zone concept that's been (unkindly) stretched to feature length.
* If memory serves, that's a line from Wes Craven's The Serpent and the Rainbow, but it works for all sorts of horror films.