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  After.Life Playing Dead
Year: 2009
Director: Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo
Stars: Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson, Justin Long, Chandler Canterbury, Celia Weston, Lux Alexandra Ramos, Josh Charles, Rosemary Murphy, Malachy McCourt, Shuler Hensley, Alice Drummond
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Anna Taylor (Christina Ricci) is having boyfriend problems with her partner Paul Coleman (Justin Long) as it seems they cannot communicate anymore without their conversation descending into another argument. She is a schoolteacher and after another morning which has not gone well, she reaches the school and interrupts two bullies picking on one of her pupils, Jack (Chandler Canterbury). That night she is due to meet Paul for a meal at a restaurant because he has news for her - she is expecting the worst, but has no idea about how bad it will get.

Though that's not down to Paul, who merely wanted to propose to her. No, the real problem happens when Anna storms out of the restaurant and drives home in tears, having got the wrong end of the stick and thinking Paul wanted to break up with her when the opposite was true. She crashes the car, then wakes up in the morgue where the mortician turns out to be Liam Neeson. Or Liam Neeson playing a mortician anyway, adding to a surprisingly overqualified cast for what looked like a low budget horror movie with a twist in the tale. That was how it appeared, but get to the end of After.Life and you might well be disappointed that the three screenwriters couldn't come up with a proper ending.

Another problem, aside from the puzzling title punctuation, was that it would incrementally proceed with its plot, gradually revealing more about Anna's predicament but not enough to intrigue or truly satisfy. Much of the film was either Long teary-eyed and searching for reasons behind his girlfriend's apparent demise, or Ricci lying on a table as Neeson burbled various enigmatic examples of faux-meaningful dialogue. The big question is whether Anna is dead or not, and although she can talk to Eliot the mortician, who doubles as a funeral director, he insists that's nothing to do with whether she is alive. Indeed, he's very insistent that she died in the car crash, and gets intermittently tetchy when she suggests otherwise.

After all, this being a horror movie it could be that some artistic licence had been put into play, but it's not spoiling anything to say it remains largely up to the individual to decide what is really happening. It's easy to take issue with that, because if Anna is actually living after her accident then not a lot of this makes sense, as if director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, in her debut feature, was more comfortable with the weird business than she was with clearing her narrative up. Some of this was effective enough, there was a clinical appearance to many scenes which contributed to the atmosphere of the morgue, and the difference in size between the towering Neeson and the tiny, frail Ricci necessarily offered menace for him and vulnerability for her.

On the other hand, there are some films you want to give a shake and demand they explain themselves, and After.Life was skirting close to that for its entire running time. What was the significance of Jack, who obsesses over a chick which may or may not represent Anna? He looks to be an important part of the puzzle, but his scenes lead nowhere. Then there was the uncomfortable feeling the director was appealing to the audience's inner necrophilia when Ricci spent a long stretch of the film made up as an attractive and very naked corpse - how were we supposed to react to that? Not helping was the peculiar mood which far from assisting in portraying a convincing premise made everything feel very stilted: this wasn't the fault of the cast, more the fault of the poor writing they had to contend with which was never believable enough that it had been thought through properly. The idea of the supposed corpse awakening was not a new one, and this didn't add much except obfuscation. Music by Paul Haslinger.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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