After.Life (2009)

Another review from the lovely Romina Nicolaides!

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——————————————————————————– movie 2009When I first read about After.Life I was very excited. On paper it was an easy sell, Liam Neeson, Christina Ricci and Jason Long are the three main stars that should have made this movie phenomenal. Plus the blurb had everything going for it: A young woman caught between life and death… and a funeral director who appears to have the gift of transitioning the dead, but might just be intent on burying her alive…

So what if IMDB only gave it six stars? Liam Neeson gives start quality to anything, especially after Taken, right? Not right. Wrong in fact!

This was another one of those super promising movies which left me feeling cheated and used by the end. Though it was well acted, I was left longing for a better story once again. It is very sad when a movie is full of potential but sacrifices plot for the benefit of visuals.

After.Life 2009After.Life starts with a young couple, Paul and Anna, having sex. Half way through the deed Anna stops having fun and goes to take a shower. Her boyfriend protests that she used to enjoy it, but now suddenly doesn’t anymore. Why? We’re left to wonder. How is this plot going to thicken and how will this affect their relationship? To add more spice to the mix, she goes to take a shower and has a nose bleed. Big hint that something is wrong with her health, right? Right? After all, each scene in a movie serves as an indispensable tale telling device which propels the plot forward. Or is that just me?

The following evening Paul takes Anna out to dinner and after a botched wedding proposal she gets into her car and drives away during a rainstorm, upset that he’s just broken up with her. Despite the “what the…?” exclamations you’re all probably making, this part was done quite well, which is a testament to the skills of the cast. Next thing we know Anna shows up in a funeral home and Paul has to find out from her mother that she was killed in a car accident. Though he tries to see her, he is denied access by the Mortician/Funeral director Mr Deacon, played by Neeson, on the grounds that he is not really family. He goes to the police station to ask for their help (being as he is a lawyer) and is turned away, but not before seeing Anna’s wrecked and blood spattered car, implying that she was quite seriously impaled in the accident.

christina ricci For the rest of the movie Anna, who only sports a cut on her forehead and one on her ribcage, is kept in the funeral home where Deacon tries to convince her that she has died and is preparing to pass over in the three days until her funeral. Please note that this was initially scheduled for Thursday but then got moved to Friday, go figure!

The strength of this movie lies in the fact that you spend the entirety of it wondering whether Anna truly is dead, based on the conversations she has with Deacon as well as her physical reactions; she believes she is alive but at no point does she eat or drink anything or go to the bathroom. Also at no point does her body get prepared for the funeral other than being given “muscle relaxant” injections that mollify her. Other than suturing the cut on her forehead, she does not undergo any of the usual draining, sewing or other preparations done to a body prior to burial. Deacon tries very hard to convince her that only he can see her, but understandably she does not take him at his word. When at one point she is given the chance, she escapes the basement and finds a bedroom with a phone and tries to ring Paul (more on this later). While in this room, Deacon catches up with her and once again she demands proof that she is dead; at this he produces a mirror, and when she looks into it she realizes she looks very corpsey (technical term). This acts as the nail in the coffin so to speak, and she accepts that she must in fact be of the deceased persuasion. It never occurs to her that there might be a trick with the mirror and, when in exasperation she exhales onto it and it mists, Deacon wipes the steam away as she looks down. Hint, hint…

after-life-movieBy the end of movie it is revealed to us that Anna was in fact alive all along (different mirror, same breath trick) and that Deacon is some sicko who is disgusted by the passive way people simply exist, so he tries to make them appreciate what is valuable in their lives. Apparently the best way he can think to do this is by convincing them they’re dead. Transcendental right? Sadly this is the part where the movie slips through your fingers like a melting blancmange, because the premise and the execution fail to make a happy match.

The principle was good, the idea had a lot going for it, but in practise it failed miserably. Yes, you are left wondering whether Anna is indeed dead and struggling to come to terms with her own passing, and even though the hints are there about the probability of her being alive, the overall aim is to make you think she’s dead. Though she can touch and move things, she also sees other “dead” people, ghosts who come through portals in the wall and finally necromancers, none of which are explained at any point. This was another bad move on the part of the movie, which instead of helping the viewer sympathise and hope she is saved, produced a feeling of passive involvement, because if she is presumed dead then surely she’s beyond redemption. It was as if the movie itself didn’t know whether she was alive or dead and left you to come to your own conclusions. This of course would’ve been well and good if the ending was ambiguous, but it’s made very clear that she’s alive when she’s buried and Paul suddenly has minutes in which to save her. The ambiguities build up when, on one occasion, just before she succumbs to the idea that she is passing, she escapes the mortician’s room, manages to ring Paul and he answers the phone to the sound of an apparition and not her voice. If she was in fact alive up to her funeral, then why on earth is the phone all spooked up? Was there some special issue with the home’s phones (like its mirrors) that only allowed for hazy sound effects? If yes then we had to be shown. Also whenever Deacon visited the preparation room where she was being held he would put the temperature to 50 degrees. Now as a non-American that temperature has no effect on my understanding, but whatever the case, the place was warm enough for her to spend the first couple of days in a shiny red negligée and the last stark naked. I suspect this was done purely for the gratuitousness of it all, because the close ups of Ricci’s butt and boobs added zero plot to the film.

Towards the end and while at Anna’s wake, Deacon makes sure Paul understand that she was in fact buried alive and he’s been right wanting to see her all along. Paul rushes to the cemetery and surprise surprise, also has a car accident and ends up on Deacon’s mortuary table. Supposedly it’s for the cycle to start again but even then the movie is inconsistent; if you see it you can decide.

This movie had so much potential but it never delivered. Its focus was clearly on the visual aspects, treating the plot as secondary. The colour palette throughout was very postmodern and clinical and with that grey tonality popular with suspense horror movies in recent years. If the script had undergone the same close scrutiny as the visuals, it would’ve made for a better product. Oh and in case you’re wondering we never find out why she had a nose bleed or why she stopped mid coitus. The moral of the story? Sex is nothing without love and then you (don’t) die.

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  1. Pingback: After.Life, cos I bet you missed me complaining. | Romina Nicolaides

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