Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Capsule Film Reviews: After.Life

After.Life, 2009, Leiju, Harbor Light, Plum, Directed by Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, Written by Wojtowicz-Vosloo, Paul Vosloo, and Jakub Korolczuk, 103 minutes, 2:40:1

With After.Life award winning NYU student filmmaker Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo graduates from student films to feature length big screen films. Wojtowicz-Vosloo's After.Life is a film with ambiguity at its heart. Christina Ricci plays Anna, a teacher who is unhappy with her life and who dies in a car crash after she and her significant other Paul (Justin Long) argue at a restaurant. The question Wojtowicz-Vosloo wants us viewers to ponder is the question of whether Anna is really dead and is being helped by good hearted mortician and funeral home owner Eliot Deacon (Liam Neeson), who can see and talk to the dead, to come to grips with her mortality--Wojtowicz runs a bit with the Kubler-Ross playbook here--in the kind of purgatory for the dead who can't believe they are dead of his funeral home--Deacon as therapist--or is Anna being held prisoner by the very inexpressive and creepy Deacon and tortured with Deacon's mortician implements for his fun and Polaroid pleasure--Deacon as reverse Frankenstein?

After.Life never really solves this mystery though director Wojtowicz-Vosloo claims otherwise. Paul may come to believe that Anna is alive and may try to convince others that she is and try to save his damsel in distress from Deacon's clutches before he too dies in an automobile accident helping to put the thrills in this philosophical horror thriller. Deacon may wipe Anna's breath from a mirror but are we to take this as the camera's documentary point-of-view or is Wojtowicz-Vosloo simply pulling viewer chains? Anna may wreak the embalming room but we never see anyone clean up the mess and we have to wonder whether this is all in her mind or is simply another manipulation of the audience by director Wojtowicz-Vosloo. Anna's student Jack (Chandler Canterbury) may have seen Anna through the window of Deacon's Gothic like funeral home--the horror, the horror--but then Jack, who becomes Deacon's protege, may, as Deacon says, simply be one of those rare people who can see dead people and help them come to grips with their death. In many ways After.Life wants to have its cake and eat it too.

After.Life is stylishly directed, beautifully filmed, nicely fills the screen with living reds and deathly blacks, nicely transforms the instruments of a morticians profession into "eerie" instruments of torture, horror and terror, and creates an eerie atmosphere of terror and horror out of the clinical accoutrements of the clinical and sterile underneath of a funeral home and the burial of a young woman who may or may not be alive--not original I know. Despite all of this I found it hard to maintain an interest in a film that plays its trump card way too early and I was unable to identity with characters played by actors who were presumably told or decided to limit their verbal and physical expressions in order to maintain the ambiguity--is she or isn't she--at the heart of the film. Two and a half stars. Others, particularly those who long to see Christina Ricci naked, a lot, on the other hand, will probably find much to enjoy about After.Life.

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