Mark Reviews Movies


1 Star (out of 4)

Director: Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo

Cast: Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson, Justin Long, Chandler Canterbury, Josh Charles, Celia Weston

MPAA Rating: R (for nudity, disturbing images, language and brief sexuality)

Running Time: 1:43

Release Date: 4/9/10

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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 8, 2010

The major theme of After.Life is that some people go about their entire lives as if they are already dead. Regrets are for these people but are useless things to have. There's no time to waste.

This coming from a movie that is a regret and waste of time to watch.

There are only two ways that After.Life could turn out, and instead of picking one and running with it, co-writer/director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo presents both possibilities as a possibility until the very end, at which point she decides not to make a decision.

This is a clear case of writing oneself into a corner, and Wojtowicz-Vosloo and fellow screenwriters Paul Vosloo and Jakub Korolczuk do just that. In leaving both options on the table, they have written major, unavoidable gaps in logic, of both the common and storytelling type. Instead of pondering the implications of a definitive choice of either one, the audience is left to contemplate just what in the hell is happening. It's frustrating and arrogant, and yet, somewhat thankfully, also transparently ridiculous.

The question is whether or not Anna (Christina Ricci) is dead. After getting into a fight with her boyfriend Paul (Justin Long), she storms out of the restaurant and onto a dark, rainy expressway. It seems, from the very little the movie shows of them as a couple, all they do is fight; he even says, "Can't we get through one dinner without fighting," right before he's about to propose to her. He loves her, of course, but at some point, this whole always-fighting thing should have struck him as a red flag about the potential for their relationship. It's at least a funnier scene than the already amusing depiction of their boring sex life. The writers cram in a lot of front-heavy angst and guilt here, just so everyone gets the point.

On that wet, dim-lit highway, Anna crashes and awakes on the slab of mortician Eliot Deacon (Liam Neeson) in the basement of his funeral home. Anna argues she's not dead; Deacon tells her, "You're dead. Your opinion doesn't count anymore."

Deacon is so bigoted toward the dead, because he's been talking to them for most of his life. At least that's his story. He has a gift, he tells Anna (and cryptically hints to anyone who'll listen)—it's his curse.

So Anna is dead, and Deacon can speak to the dead. That's fine and dandy. Wait, though, if Anna is dead, how can she physically interact with the world around her? Why does her breath appear on windows and mirrors, which Deacon then wipes off before she can see it? What's the actual purpose of the paralytic he injects into her only when he's expecting company? How does she call Paul from the funeral home, in one of the lamest escape attempts ever made by someone whose primary motivation is to get out of a place?

So Anna is alive, and Deacon is a demented serial killer, putting those with miserable lives out of their misery because they simply cannot appreciate that which is most important in life—love. Yes, the movie pulls the love card as its big, deeper meaning.

If Deacon is a murderer, what kind of planning does this setup, which the movie then shows him doing more than once, entail? The coincidences necessary for this angle to work are staggering to the point that it makes no sense.

Speaking of coincidences, Deacon comes across a co-conspirator in his unknown modus operandi, a young boy (Chandler Canterbury) who either shares his gift of gab with the deceased or his sociopathic tendencies. He also happens to be or have been one of Anna's students. Paul punches him in the face. That's not really relevant, but it should be noted as the movie's most unintentionally funny scene.

Deacon and the kid are not a good gauge of the movie's premise, but then again, neither is Anna. If alive, she passes up each and every of her many opportunities to run away from Deacon's dungeon of despair. If dead, her multiple instances of physical interaction are a poor red herring.

Boiled down to what's actually presented, the whole movie is misdirection, executed without any subtlety. Ricci is an annoyance in the role, partly because of her character's indecisiveness and partly because of her own shrill delivery. Neeson plays the role of the creepy funeral director straight, which just makes his prejudice against the dead a recurring joke.

After.Life is a mess of misleading gimmickry. There is probably an answer, to the enigmatic riddle Wojtowicz-Vosloo and her cohorts provide, but neither of them is meaningful, logical, or satisfying. A movie this dishonestly heady should provide something, anything, to talk about beyond what it might or might not be about.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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