Saturday, April 10, 2010

Movie with Abe: After.Life

Directed by Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo
Released April 9, 2010

At their best, thriller or horror movies feature a well-mixed blend of startling jump scenes and unsettling, thought-provoking themes. Decent films of either genre can also feature only one of the two and still create a decently terrifying and disturbing movie. “After.Life,” the new film about a schoolteacher named Anna (Christina Ricci) who wakes up in a funeral home to find its director telling her that she is dead and only he can communicate with her, includes neither, and it ends up being quite an unsatisfying, boring trip down a road lined with questions, none of which are answered by film’s end.

It’s much clearer what “After.Life,” possessor of an obnoxious period in the middle of its title to make it sound like some hyper-technical forward-thinking URL, is trying to do and trying to stir up in its audience. Death can be a sudden, unexpected thing, and it’s often very hard to accept that it has actually occurred and is both finite and irreversible. But what about the dead themselves? It must be near impossible to come to terms with the fact that life has ceased, especially if the final resting place appears to be a mortician’s table. That’s about as thought-provoking as it gets, however, and most of those ideas come from the synopsis of the film rather than its actual content.

A script possessing at least a little bit of intelligence might have helped elevate this film from dud to decent. But when a quarter of the film’s lines are “I’m not dead…I can’t be dead,” uttered over and over by a ghostly Ricci, that’s not going to be the case. Emphasizing dream sequences and visual tricks designed to confuse and shock the audience don’t provide answers to vital questions, and instead serve as annoying, time-wasting substitutions. There’s a whole lot of intrigue, but little to no satisfactory attempt at addressing any of it. The empty look in Anna’s eyes contrasted with the knowing look in the funeral director’s seems designed to guide the audience toward some kind of higher truth, but that’s not the case.

Then there’s the matter of the cast. Christina Ricci is no stranger to uncommon perceptions of the afterlife, having spent one of her breakout movie roles hanging out with Casper the friendly ghost. Ricci’s unenthusiastic nature certainly mimics that of a person no longer alive, but it’s a flat performance that irritates far more than it evokes sympathy. Justin Long has done both comedy (“Zack and Miri Make a Porno”) and action (“Live Free or Die Hard”) well, but he fails miserably in this dramatic role as Anna’s would-be fiancée unwilling to let her go without a fight. Liam Neeson is a cut above the material, but when he’s sinking to the level of this movie, even his performance seems over-the-top. This film flops as a combined result of miscasting, a sloppy script, and a defiant attitude toward provide any kind of resolution to the mysteries raised in the film. It’s hardly worth sticking around in this afterlife.


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