“After.Life” almost plays like a twisted, bizarre Grimm Brothers fairytale set in the modern world. The film details an odd, moody mortician named Eliot (coldly played by Liam Neeson). Eliot can seemingly converse with the dead, and coax them into accepting the their own tragic fates. His latest subject is Anna Taylor (Christina Ricci), who’s just died in a brutal car accident following a heated argument with her longtime boyfriend Paul (Justin Long) at dinner.
At first, she’s completely unconvinced she’s actually even died. After all, she can talk, walk and think—not exactly the usual traits of a decaying dead person. She pleads with Eliot, thinking she’s somehow been kidnapped rather than killed. She even makes a few attempts to escape. But slowly she comes to realize she’s died…or has she?
“After.Life” plays around with this mysterious notion, toying with the audience, and our two leads. Anna never really seems sure that she’s dead, nor does her boyfriend. But is it just grief tugging at their hearts? For Anna, there’s grief that she never really lived in the first place. For Paul, there’s grief that he never really loved Anna. And in the middle is Eliot, a man so cold, so coarse, he might as well be a twisted serial killer. He has all the makings of one.
Director and co-writer Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo seems quite comfortable not answering that question during the film’s overlong 103-minute running time. She enjoys creating the film’s haunting, gothic atmosphere and playing around with the idea of what the afterlife may really be.
But, quite sadly, the film doesn’t really add up, particularly during its disappointing final act, which bypasses some creative metaphors to deliver a cheap twist. The middle act drags on and on as Anna makes multiple attempts to escape and Paul drags himself deeper into his own despair, losing aspects of his character as well. While it’s clear Vosloo is attempting to shape a moral around her fairytale-like narrative, getting to that moral can sometimes be a chore.
Thankfully, the film is lifted by the absolutely stellar cast. Ricci, who spends a surprisingly significant amount of time either completely nude or scantily clad, is clearly in her element as Anna, a woman torn between life and death. She doesn’t really come to terms with her death. Rather, she’s almost seduced by the idea of having no life at all. Watching her succumb to death’s whimsy is oddly fascinating and bizarrely erotic.
Neeson’s cold Eliot is equally compelling. He reeks of cynicism and anger, but plays the role like a bottled-up mental patient—concise and calculated, waiting to strike. And it works fairly well.
Justin Long carries the film’s biggest emotional weight. Whether he’s grieving over his girlfriend’s untimely passing or pondering his own fate, Long manages to capture the emotional essence of the film.
Despite the meandering pace, and lack of fearsome thrills, “After.Life” is a chilling fairytale that grabs you and takes you on a strangely hypnotic ride.
Grade ★ ★★ out of 5 stars
Distributed by C-Interactive Digital Entertainment
Available at all Astrovision and Astroplus branches nationwide
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