Dir: Agnieska Wojtowicz-Vosloo - feature film directorial debut
Cast: Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson, Justin Long, Chandler Canterbury, Joshh Charles, Celia Weston
Reason to see: Very creepy looking horror film with Christini Ricci and Liam Neeson was enough to get me curious!
After.Life is a challenge to review in a spoiler-free way, as it is heavily encased in a mystery atmosphere as the central focus of the film. Christina Ricci stars as Anna, a rather distanced and unhappy woman who is literally walking vacantly through life. Now enter a very detached funeral director Eliot (Liam Neeson from Chloe and The A-Team), who is the one-man show of the funeral home from preparation of bodies to keeping the lawn. The film has lots of scenes featuring them together, but I don't think it'd be fair to say that they have a relationship of any kind. Eliot is there to prep Anna for her own funeral, where she protests and insists that she is not dead.
The darkness of the subject matter of death and what happens when we die is compounded by the clinical coldness of Eliot's preparation room, the stark whiteness of the setting along with many a shiny metal tool. The film has several pretty gruesome moments in terms of the preparation, which I think it important to know going in. The detachedness of Eliot and distanced Anna make it a bit of a challenge to connect with either of them, and Anna's boyfriend Paul played by Justin Long (Galaxy Quest, Going the Distance) feels very separated from action and so although he is easy to empathize with, it's still not that easy to connect to him.
I think the films strong point is that it deals with not only mortality but morality as well, questioning not only what happens after we die but also how we live. It was rather disturbing to see Liam Neeson play such a cold, clinical character but he really does it well. I did find it a little strange and the level of nudity in the film, which is explained in the commentary and clearly makes sense, and I don't have anything against nudity in general but seeing it in such a cold, distanced environment kept me a bit on edge. But I think the film is really going for pushing the boundaries, and I think it's successful there. It uncomfortable, it makes you think and it keeps you wondering and wanting to know more.
I was surprized when checking out the special features on the DVD (see more details below), that it isn't a film where the mystery is intended to be ambiguous, but rather it has a very clear and direct 'this is what actually happened and why'. Usually I'm all for clarity, but here I kind of wanted to mull over the possibilities first. Maybe I should not watch the DVD extras directly after seeing the film when it comes to mysteries. Always something new to learn about film watching habits!
Warnings: violence, gore
- Audio commentary with co-writer/director Agnieska Wojtowicz-Vosloo - very interesting commentary that goes through details of the shoot from locations, to number of days/scenes along with casting, colour motif, themes, and very directly points out clues to the story as they appear. I found it interesting that even though there is obviously one clear vision of the story laid out, it's also proposed that other interpretations could be brought forth, which made me want to go back and watch it again to see if that could be true in terms of continuity.
- Delving into The After Life: Making of Featurette (7 minutes) co-writer/director Agnieska Wojtowicz-Vosloo discusses the original idea, themes and characters of the film, along with going through specific details and clues in the film and how they contribute to the overall story and vision.
Shannon's Overall View:
I enjoyed it, especially the atmosphere and colour story, but was a little put off by the nudity
I'm curious to watch it again after listening to the commentary
I'd recommend it to horror fans and fans of thematically dark dramas
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© Shannon Ridler, 2010