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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

After.Life (2009)

Directed by Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo
Starring Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson, Justin Long
Written by Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, Paul Vosloo and Jakub Korolczuk
Music by Paul Haslinger

Psychological thrillers, especially ones that deal with the afterlife (like The Sixth Sense) are tricky to get right. Tricky because there's a fine line they have to straddle between being true-to-life (so to speak) and completely daft. The Sixth Sense managed it through some strong performances, a grounding in as much reality as could be managed, and a strong script. After.Life only has one of these things (hint: it's the first).

Capably directed by Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo (how's that for a name, I thought that guy who directed The Tourist had a hell of a name!), it's an interesting look at what *might* happen in that brief doorway between life and death. Interesting in that it's a different take on the usual thriller fare, but unfortunately fails in the execution, and what we're left with is a fairly middling thriller. Plus, it seems to contradict itself (unless I've failed miserably to grasp what the director and screenwriters were trying for).

Christina Ricci's expression when informed her wardrobe
budget for the film was going to be slashed to $20

--- minor spoilers ahead ---

Ricci gets in a car accident, and winds up in a funeral home, and the film takes pains to hint that (a) she was dead to begin with and this is merely a transition to the "after life", and Neeson can talk to dead people or (b) she's on the verge of death and Neeson is a deranged nutter who is killing people. Unfortunately, though this is resolved by the film's end, it doesn't really make a whole lot of sense throughout. Some scenes strongly suggest, right from the outset, that Ricci is dead, or dying, or a ghost, or something. Then, later on, we get the sense that Neeson is the one who's lost his mind, not Ricci, and that she is alive all along. Or something.

--- end spoiler alert ---

Ultimately the script lets the film down, not the performances nor the direction nor anything else. Liam Neeson provides a creepy and effective performance as a possibly unhinged mortician. Christina Ricci, who suffers through the majority of the film either as a psychologically damaged character, nude, or both, grounds the film, and our sympathies, as she tries to work out what the hell is going on. Justin Long is probably the only weak link, acting-wise. He's not terrible by any means...he's just...himself. Maybe After.Life benefits from a second watch to see if everything makes sense (a'la Shutter Island) but, to be honest, I was somewhat underwhelmed by the entire experience and I don't think I could stomach a rewatch.

"I've got the latest script right here...I'm afraid it still doesn't make any sense."

The film is suitably atmospheric, there are some nice makeup effects throughout (apart from one "big" scene which has too much CGI crap) but ultimately this is a case of "nice concept, average execution", very much like a lot of M Night Shyamalan's work post-Sixth Sense. It's not scary or thrilling enough to truly work well, which means we have to rely on the script and performances to see us through, and not even Ricci and Neeson can save us in that respect.

Best bit
eh, hard to pick one - Ricci's car accident, perhaps?

Iconic moment
none, really

Worst bit
the cliched "walking down a corridor and the lights go out one by one" which seems to be completely out of place...unless I missed something

Best line
"You're a corpse; your opinion doesn't count anymore."

Best performance
Liam Neeson, just the right blend of creepy and oddly sympathetic

Christina Ricci, for at least giving it a go and acting in a challenging role that requires her to be 50% naked throughout the film

What would have made this better
a more satisfying resolution, replace Justin Long, remove the glaring continuity errors and actually make sure the damn thing MAKES SENSE

What would have made this worse
replace Christina Ricci with Kathy Bates

Companion film
for more life-near/after-death shenanigans, Flatliners

What to watch instead
probably The Sixth Sense

If you liked this...
try the very first Saw film if you want more of that "value life" lesson

+ Neeson and Ricci are very good and effectively keep the film on track
+ lots of nudity for the raincoat brigade
+ some good makeup FX
+ intriguing concept

- some illogical plot devices
- Justin Long is fairly weak in a pivotal role
- weak ending
- not enough gore for the gorehound, not enough chills for the thriller fan, not enough meat for the serious film buff

Rating on the Angus Scrimm/Tall Man level of creepy morticians:

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