After.Life (2009) **
D: Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo
C: Christina Ricci, Justin Long, Liam Neeson
Plot Synopsis: After a fight with her boyfriend, a young school teacher is involved in a car accident. She awakes to find herself in a funeral home told by the mortician that she is dead. Question is, is she really dead?
Review: With that cast and that premise After.Life seems like it should have been a can't miss, but the film never lives up to its potential. The problem is two fold, the first being the cast itself. Now, I know what you're thinking. These are three really talented actors and I agree with you, but there performances here simply don't work.
In the case of Justin Long, I remember the first time that I saw him in Jeepers Creepers, back when it was playing in theaters. The instant he popped up on screen, I knew he had a certain star quality to him. Here, in After.Life, he does his whiny thing again, something that worked well in not only Jeepers Creepers, but films such as Accepted & Waiting as well. The difference here vs those films is that he had an on screen co-star that played a character who was not only mentally stronger, but also physically stronger as well. Having a character that was stronger and a character that was weaker balanced things out and allowed Long to shine. Without that co-star, Long is left to hang dry. As a result, his performance and his character become downright annoying at times.
As for Liam Neeson, he's tackled a variety of complex characters his entire career. I think a prime example of this is when he took on the role of Alfred Kinsey in Kinsey. Getting to the root of a character who wrote a pioneering book dealing with sexual research is no easy task if you ask me. His role in After.Life should have been right up his alley. For instance, in one scene, Neeson's character talks of how he's heard the dead talk to him pretty much his entire life. Yet, when Neeson's characters talks of this, I never felt any of the anguish that this character supposedly has gone through. Talk about a wasted opportunity.
And finally, there's Christina Ricci. This one I chalk up to her being miscast. Ricci has made a career out of playing characters who do devilish things. Two prime examples of this were her roles in The Addams Family and The Opposite of Sex. In After.Life, we're asked to become emotionally invested in Ricci and to root for her as she embarks on this quest to find out whether she's dead or alive. Her character is supposed to be the emotional center of the film and this is simply something that isn't in Ricci's wheelhouse. Yes, she has played characters that we're supposed to become emotionally invested in, but there was a difference in those films. For example, in Black Snack Moan her role required her to be a deviant who finds redemption. That role was about a character transforming and finding themselves. In After.Life, her role is pretty much a puzzle that we have to figure out and that doesn't allow us to see her transform and become a different person. So that's why the emotional connection to her character is missing here.
The second problem with After.Life is much more simpler and that is, that this is a short film premise that has been padded out to feature length running time. On the technical side of things, the film can't be faulted. The visuals are striking. The makeup is striking. The costumes are striking. The cinematography and camera work are striking. On the whole, this is a visually arresting film to watch.
All of this technical expertise makes After.Life all the more disappointing. This was a film that had plenty of ammunition at its disposal, but nothing quite gels and nothing quite works the way that it should. [R] 103 minutes.