30 Days of Fright – 05: After.Life

It may seem obvious but it needs saying: In a movie so much rests on the actors. Bad acting can ruin a great story, and while nothing can really salvage a poor story good acting can at least numb the pain of the viewing. In horror you do tend to see some decent actors occasionally strutting their stuff. I’m not sure why but they all take a crack at it, maybe they’re looking for a challenge, or maybe they’re slumming it for the sake of a rounded CV, or more likely for a rounded paycheque.

After.Life (2009) stars Liam Neeson as Eliot Deacon a funeral director with a big funeral home in a small town somewhere in America. He seems to take extraordinary care of the deceased and knows just what would be appropriate for their service often putting out the favourite flowers of those who’d passed away without having to be told.
In the same town, Christina Ricci is elementary school teacher Anna Taylor who is going out with local lawyer Paul played by some pleb. Like most teachers Anna is slightly unstable (I’m joking (or am I?)) and at dinner one night a row breaks out between her and the boyfriend just before he was going to propose. Anna rushes out into the dark and stormy night, sitting into her car and tearing off before he can stop her.
Anna then wakes up on the slab at the funeral home where she meets Deacon who’s getting ready to prepare her body for her funeral, scheduled in three days time. Anna points out that she’s not dead, what with the waking up and breathing and talking and all, but Deacon points out that every dead person that hits his table says the same thing and that she’s very dead after she crashed her car. Deacon goes on to explain that he has the rather unfortunate gift of being able to communicate with the recently deceased and so he tries to help them with the transition onto the next life. It turns out that most people, like Anna, cling to life and have to get some help otherwise they’ll never be ready and the transition will be extremely hard on them while those they leave behind will suffer too until the dead are laid to rest.
Anna calls bullshit on this line and comes to the conclusion that Deacon is a creepy murderer with a taste for burying people alive. Deacon spends the next three days trying to convince Anna to accept her fate as she’s most definitely a corpse and therefore bugger all can be done for her at this point. Meanwhile, her boyfriend Paul is badly upset by her untimely passing and all he wants to do is say his goodbyes to her privately. However, seeing as how he hadn’t got around to the actual proposal before Anna supposedly kicked the bucket he’s not technically family and so Deacon won’t let him have a private audience with her. Paul grows increasingly suspicious of Deacon and tries to get the help of the local police who are convinced he’s nothing more than a grieving boyfriend.
Following her “death”, one of Anna’s students, an eleven year old boy called Jack (haven’t a clue who played him, no-one famous anyway) begins to hang out at funerals, becoming fascinated with them as only a small boy can. Deacon befriends Jack and tells him about his gift for communicating with the dead, a gift he thinks Jack also possesses as Jack claims to have seen Anna stood at a window of the funeral home. Jack tells Paul of what he’s seen and this only further convinces Paul that Anna is still alive so, torn between his belief in her up-and-aboutedness and the progress of his grieving, he attempts to determine the truth just as the time comes for Anna’s funeral…
Playing Hide & Seek with Wednesday Addams was always going to end badly

After.Life is something of a horror and something of a thriller but it’s hard to figure out which it is and that’s the whole point of the film. After.Life is deliberately ambiguous as the audience are supposed to decide for themselves just what exactly the fuck is going on. The choices boil down to this: either Anna is dead and Deacon has a terrible gift that he tries to do his best with, or Anna is alive and Deacon is a serial killer burying people alive when he thinks they haven’t lived as full a life as they should have. After watching the film the choice is very much yours as there’s plenty of evidence both ways while logic (not something often present in Hollywood) gets in the way just to muddy the waters further.

If Anna is dead then did Deacon really give her drugs as part of the process of readying a body for burial? And how did that work – if you’re dead then there’s no circulation so how did intravenous drugs do anything without some sort of a pump? Why did he keep turning the temperature down in the mortuary? And why did Jack give his little clue (I won’t reveal what it was) as to what Deacon was up to?
If Anna is alive then how did she get to Deacon’s table? Was it really just a series of mistakes made by paramedics, doctors, and so on? If so, it must happen all the time and funeral directors everywhere must be encountering people (professionally) who aren’t dead all the time. If this is isolated to the town where Deacon operates then he must have a series of accomplices who provide victims or the local medical and law enforcement establishment must all be massively incompetent and Deacon is merely leveraging this for his twisted purposes. Also, if Anna is alive, why was she never hungry or thirsty, and while bodily functions are mentioned all the time, why does she never nip to the toilet?
I suspect that you’re not really meant to question Afer.Life too deeply as neither option really stands up to scrutiny and that’s what writer and director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo probably intended. The ambiguity present in After.Life is the main source of the enjoyment of the flick and in that regard it works well. The film is well paced and directed and there’s little to fault in its execution. The only real problem I saw with it was the casting.
Liam Neeson is a great actor. There’s nothing more to say about that so he’s free to go. The plebs who played the lawyer and the kid are off the hook too as they turned up and did what they were supposed to. However, Ms. Ricci…
When Christina Ricci burst onto the scene as Wednesday in The Addams Family she set the bar very high for herself at quite a young age. In that film she was perfectly cast as the sinister psychopathic child out to kill her brother with a series of deadly childhood games including the brilliantly titled “Is There a God?” featuring an electric chair. However, something bothered me about Ricci even back then and it was her looks, especially the poor girl’s forehead. What a vast amount of real estate she has between her eyes and her hairline. I thought she’d grow out of it or at least employ the aid of some sort of specialist barber who’d be able to cover the dreadful expanse with a wig or something.
Ricci is not a terribly bad looking woman, as can be seen in Sleepy Hollow where she tidied herself up a bit (probably because Johnny Depp is enough weird for one movie by himself without Ricci adding to things) but in After.Life she looked like death warmed up from the start of the film well before the dead or alive part begins. This helps the idea at the core of the film but her appearance is just too off-putting, made all the worse by the fact that she spends about a third of the film utterly naked. This isn’t me just being mean for the sake of it, Ricci’s look is heightened by the style of makeup used for After.Life and it just makes her look like the weird kid who over did the costume for Halloween as opposed to a young woman desperately trying to discover what plain of existence she’s currently on. I am forced to wonder what this film would have been like with someone else in the role of Anna. Considering the amount of nudity, preferably someone hot!
One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for After.Life

Yes, there are links after death, here they are:
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/After.Life
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0838247/

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