Annoyingly Inept ‘After.Life’ Bores Audience to Death
CHICAGO – “After.Life” is one of the first truly awful films of 2010. Its aggressive solemnity combined with its head-slapping silliness will cause most viewers to simply laugh it off the screen. There’s at least two possible ways to interpret its murky story, and they’re both ludicrous. The only mystery guaranteed to linger in moviegoers’ minds is the inexplicable motivation of Christina Ricci and Liam Neeson to take part in this direct-to-video dreck.
First-time feature director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo tries far too hard to get a reaction out of her audience. There are countless instances where loud clangs are heard on the soundtrack, followed by characters asking Ricci (and presumably the viewer), “Are you scared?” Frankly, there were more scares in “Casper.” The filmmakers spend so much time making noise that they forget to build suspense. Paul Haslinger’s irritating score has perhaps the greatest overuse of suspended cymbal rolls in film history, punctuating nearly every scene with a blaring crescendo until it quickly becomes an unintentional running gag.
Photo credit: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Ricci plays Anna, a morose teacher who listlessly wanders through her daily routine as if the life has been drained from her body (she’s literally dead on arrival). Her long-suffering boyfriend Paul (Justin Long) improbably puts up with her cool indifference. In the first of many forced conflicts, Anna storms out of a restaurant after an inane misunderstanding with Paul, and immediately gets in a car crash. She awakens in a funeral home, where the seemingly sinister funeral director, Eliot Deacon (Neeson), is beginning to prepare her body for burial. He explains to her that he has the gift of communicating with souls of the deceased as they transition to the after.life, but Anna insists that she isn’t dead. Is Eliot endowed with a sixth sense, or is he merely a self-righteous serial killer?
Though this premise may have worked as a half-hour “Twilight Zone” episode, it merely becomes monotonous at feature length. Eliot’s increasingly exasperated exchanges with the whiny Anna become a source of great derisive laughter; you can almost hear the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” crew cackling in the background. After Anna declares for the umpteenth time that she’s “not dead,” Eliot retorts, “You’re a corpse Anna—your opinion doesn’t count anymore.” That line gets almost as big of a howl as the moment when Paul punches a school kid (Chandler Canterbury) who deliberately provokes him, after claiming to have seen Anna alive in the funeral parlor window. Long’s presence in the picture is especially distracting, since he delivered the exact same performance as another tormented boyfriend of a doomed girl in Sam Raimi’s hilarious tongue-in-cheek thriller, “Drag Me To Hell.” “After.Life” is just as stylistically over-the-top as Raimi’s film, yet is apparently supposed to be taken seriously.
Photo credit: Anchor Bay Entertainment
I’m starting to wonder if Ricci enjoys taking her clothes off for subpar pictures like this. Ever since “Prozac Nation” back in 2001, it seems like the majority of Ricci’s roles have been a showcase for her body more than her acting ability. The closest relative to her role in “After.Life” is the scantily-clad nymphomaniac chained to a radiator by another dominant male “caregiver” in “Black Snake Moan.” In both roles, she’s prone to fits of erotic groaning, as the camera caresses her bare flesh. “After.Life” seems intent on breaking a record for the most gratuitous nudity in a film not officially labeled soft-core porn. Once Neeson snips off her clothing, Ricci is naked for at least half of the film, with her breasts getting at least as much screen time as her co-stars. It assures the film’s destiny to play on FearNet Free OnDemand, where it will be viewed by horny insomniacs.
Does Ricci really think this is all she has to offer? She’s successfully portrayed a child wise beyond her years (bringing down the house as Wednesday Addams) and an overgrown adolescent with dangerous naïvté (breaking hearts in “Monster”). But on the basis of her embarrassing work in “After.Life,” it’s hard to believe she ever acted a day in her life. Her line delivery is believable only when uttering lamentations like, “I have so many regrets,” and “I wish it was over.” The audience couldn’t agree more.
There are plenty more confounding aspects about this picture that are ripe for interpretation and debate: the Shyamalan-style use of red, the demonic bobblehead, the perverted cop, the zombie mom, the lipstick, the period in the title, etc. But there’s one fact that remains inescapable: “After.Life” is God.Awful.