At times, After.Life takes its sweet time advancing the plot. There are sections at a time in which Anna (Christina Ricci) will lie on a table, as Liam Neeson’s Elliot wanders into the room, talks for a while, and then leaves. Then, time presumably fast-forwards and the same type of scene occurs once more. The first one didn’t provide any insight into the characters or the situation they find themselves in, serving solely to make us ponder things — in this case, things that After.Life doesn’t want us to ponder.
See, there’s a large part of the movie that will want to make the audience think. This does work, but to varying degrees. At times, the questions it asks make us take some time for us to think about how we might answer them. Other ones require only simple answers, and when the film gives us time to think about them, we only become bored, having already decided for ourselves what our answer is.
There are two big questions that the film will present you with as if plays. The first, and easily the most prominently featured, is: “Is Anna alive or dead?” See, Anna wakes up at a funeral home, and is told by Elliot that she is dead. He is there to prepare her body for the afterlife, and that she has 3 days to come to terms with her death. Only he can talk with her, because he possesses a “gift”, or as he calls it, a “curse”. But we soon question if he’s actually some sort of special beings, or if he’s a lunatic keeping Anna in a basement against her will.
The second question, one that Neeson’s character almost directly asks, is: “What do you, (the viewer), do with your life to make it worthwhile?” He asks this while talking to Anna about how she lived her life, with her spouting all of the regrets that she has. There’s some sort of implication of her troubles as a child, but they are mostly passed over, never being fully explored. I would have preferred a flashback to this than one of the aforementioned filler sequences.
One complaint that cannot be made about After.Life is that it isn’t atmospheric, because it most certainly is. A lof this comes from both the location and from Neeson, who owns his role. He comes across as incredibly creepy, and yet also strangely empathetic. This adds an additional level of creepiness, which, when combined with the spooky house that most of the film takes place in, will make you feel sufficiently creeped out.
Unfortunately, atmosphere alone cannot sustain the attention of an audience. You can feel creeped out, as is the intention, but this will not hold your interest. There needs to also be an interesting plot, one that lasts for an entire film. After.Life does not possess such a plot. Instead, it starts off incredibly intriguing, and progressively loses steam as time ticks by.
What starts out interesting slowly becomes less so. The reason for this is that the series of events also become less believable, and they are this way just so that we will not find out the truth to major question #1. The events that the film depicts range from possible to completely unbelievable, and this range seems to progress in a linear fashion as the film goes along. It starts at the former end of the spectrum, and ends up at the latter.
Take, for example, Anna’s boyfriend Paul (Justin Long). He never believes that Anna is dead, for reasons that don’t really get explained. Maybe it’s just standard denial in cases like this. At one time, resident creepy-yet-cute kid played by Chandler Canterbury comes up to him and tells him that he saw Anna in the window of the funeral home. Paul smacks the child, and then goes to investigate by himself. Then he goes to the police station and yells at some cops. And then there is the actual funeral, which a large portion of the film leads up to. We see Anna’s closed eyes flicker a little, and her mouth move. Paul, who is supposed to be incredibly suspicious, misses this.
After.Life marks the feature film debut of director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo. She shows some skill with the camera here, framing each shot well, and uses lighting incredibly well. She gets how to make an atmospheric film, utilizing the sets to her advantage. Character development wasn’t a strong suit though, because nobody apart from Elliot actually becomes interesting. Not even Anna, who is supposed to be our lead, is someone that we’ll care about. Neeson’s Elliot is the star of this production, and is only that way due to the premise and Neeson’s acting, not by the way he progresses throughout the film.
After.Life sufficiently creeped me out, but it isn’t actually a great film. It has a great premise and the atmosphere really works, but the characters are flat and the story quickly loses momentum as it draws to a close. There are some good things wasted, and it has difficulty keeping you engaged with its thought-provoking questions. It’s good, but not great, and only really interesting in its early stages.