After.Life (Review)

Fortean Times 266 (this is a slightly expanded version of the edited iteration which appeared in print. Self-indulgence is, after all, a blog’s primary function)

To accuse After.Life of sexploitation would hardly be an overstatement, as it’s certainly not the classiest of horror movies; this is a film, after all, whose publicity campaign – and, as far as this reviewer can fathom, entire premise – rests solely on the twin notion that Christina Ricci makes a particularly attractive corpse and that a warmed-over Liam Neeson performance doesn’t cost much nowadays. As it turns out, the inexplicably-titled After.Life rarely strays from this winning formula, choosing to remain a predominantly inert exercise in horror which leaves you feeling slightly in need of a shower after watching it.

Certainly, a great deal of the running time is spent voyeuristically eyeing up the doll-like Ricci (whose sublime performance in Barry Levinson’s Addams Family movies serves as a stark reminder as to how low she’s sunk 17 years down the line) as she either bathes or lies naked on a steel trolley. Some more sanctimonious reviewers may dub this pornography, however my moral compass is warped enough for me to simply chastise it as immature. One would feel sorry for Ricci, but after her appearance in Black Snake Moan (another title whose premise rests solely around her scantily-clad suffering) it would appear that the starlet is drawn to sexploitation like a moth to a flame.

That said, the premise of the film – on paper, at least – is at least mildly interesting; Ricci’s schoolteacher is caught in a car accident only to wake up in the basement of Neeson’s funeral home, whereupon he informs her that she is dead and he is gifted with the ability to talk to lingering souls. She thus spends the rest of the film debating whether or not she’s actually deceased or in fact the prisoner of a delusional maniac, whilst her bereaved boyfriend (Justin Long) tries desperately to track her down.

In steadier hands this concept might have been worked, but with Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo’s cack-handed script and direction it feels like a wasted opportunity, amounting to little more than Neeson delivering a series of portentous sermons on mortality interspersed with Ricci either squeaking sadly or walking around in the buff. Though repeat viewings may reveal the film dropping the odd clue as to the truth regarding our protagonist’s predicament, it’s doubtful that you’ll care enough to bother leaving the distinct impression that the film thinks itself smarter than it is.

Likewise, the film’s performances barely even register. Ricci’s characterisation is muddled, drifting precariously between bimboish and headstrong, and rarely endearing her with the audience beyond presenting the viewer with her inordinately wide eyes, much in the same manner as Puss in Boots from the Shrek franchise. Likewise, her relationship with Long (who surely has a Seth Green comedy waiting for him somewhere) never really convinces, making his hysterical attempts to recover her all the more uninteresting. That leaves Neeson, who simply shambles around the set limply muttering life lessons– never once does he scare, intimidate or appear as though he’s investing any of his considerable talent into this farce (perhaps understandably).

But it is this sheer lack of menace which really ensures that the audience is never fully invested in Ricci’s situation. The film’s odd attempts at scaring the viewer are almost pitiful in their ineptitude, whilst Neeson is more like a kindly-yet-creepy bachelor uncle than anything else. Though his characterisation is meant to be left ambiguous, that doesn’t mean that he can’t be occasionally frightening – look at Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lector as a prime example of such an accomplishment.

As such, After.Life (sic) is rendered a dull, periodically perverse exercise in inanity, wasting a potentially interesting premise – and cast – through bungled delivery.


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