Friday, March 18, 2011

After.Life (2009)

Movie quotes:
Eliot Deacon: It's only a hole in the ground. It's for...
Jack: Miss Taylor.
Eliot Deacon: Exactly. For Anna. She belongs here.
Eliot Deacon: Because she's dead?
Jack: No, because there's no life left in her.

At a glance:
There’s a great concept (about life and afterlife) and a stellar cast buried within this plodding, illogical film

Our review (with spoilers):
Anna (Christina Ricci) is a detached young woman who is unhappy for an unexplained reason. Her attitude is negatively affecting her relationship with her boyfriend Paul (Justin Long). After an argument, Anna drives at night while crying and wakes up in the morgue. Although she seems to be breathing, speaking, and walking around wearing a lovely little satin undergarment, the undertaker (Liam Neeson) keeps assuring her that she is dead, and he is there to ease her from life into death.

The bottom line is that this is all boring. We don’t know anything about Anna’s backstory other than she is depressed. And she’s frustrating to watch, because every time she has a chance to do something, she backs down. Stab the undertaker with scissors? Talked out of it. About to escape out the door (twice!)? Changes her mind. She yells often in the film, but the one time she does not say anything: when Paul is just outside the door, banging on it after just having yelled her name a few times. All of this behavior is trying to fool the audience into thinking she is dead, but (and yes, don’t read ahead) she is actually alive, so it’s all a big joke and her behavior makes no sense. She does not pee or poo or get hungry or thirsty. All of these would have been proof that she was alive. So the scriptwriter simply leaves them out.

After.Life is another one of those films that would end in five minutes if any one of the characters did anything rational. For example, at a conciliatory dinner with her boyfriend, Anna storms out in anger when she finds out he is being transferred to Chicago. Paul is trying to tell her that he wants her to come with – this is obvious to everyone but Anna not only from his body language but also from his tone of voice – but the movie conspires to make it impossible for him to impart that vital piece of information. Of course, if he did, she wouldn’t get into the car accident, and they had to get her to the morgue (while blaming her temper and her boyfriend for putting her there, I suppose). In another laugh-producing scene, Anna steals the mortician’s keys. When he leaves in his van, she begins cycling through them, trying to get out. Instead of systematically trying each key, she tries to force them and manages to break one in half. Even given this ridiculous behavior, how long does it take to try 20 keys in a door? As she tries, it is intercut with Eliot at a graveyard, then driving to get gas, and paying the attendant. She had time to calmly try 100 keys during this period.

On the positive side, there’s no denying that director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo is technically exquisite. Each scene is filmed with careful attention to detail. And of course I applaud her for getting Ricci to take all her clothes and spend much of the movie that way.

Rating: 1 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"But toward the end, when we realize that the entire reality of the film is problematical, there is a certain impatience. It's as if our chain is being yanked."
- Roger Ebert

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