Sunday, December 13, 2009

AFI Fest Volume 2: The Corpse That Wouldn't Die

Directed By Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo
Is Christina Ricci dead or alive? Does Liam Neeson know the truth or does he not care? Will Justin Long smack a kid in the middle of an elementary school if he get's on his bad side?. The answers to these questions can only be found in "After.Life", a new film about the waiting room before the grave. Christina Ricci is a depressed and moody school teacher who after an argument with her boyfriend played by Long, blacks out on the slippery highway roads and wakes up in a morgue. She cannot move and she cannot feel, but she can see and she can speak. Liam Neeson is the mortician who runs the funeral parlor and informs her that she like so many others before her have died and are soon to be buried. She asks if him if she is dead, how it is possible she can speak and he can hear her. He explains that he can talk to the dead, always has, and that the dead always insist they are alive. That all she is experiencing is a part of the process of letting go of your life. "Denial is the hardest part". As Ricci and Neeson play cat and mouse and dr. and patient in the morgue, Long is plagued by memories/hallucinations/gut feelings that Ricci is not dead. One of Ricci' student a shy, Halle Joel Osmand-ish boy obsessed with death hangs around the funeral party, curious as to what happens at a funeral, and what happens after death. Neeson finding his inner Vincent Price is the main amusement of the film, "You people you shit and you piss and you eat and you think your alive?", though it does handle better than it sounds as mystery, leading us up many blind McGuffin filled alleys (sort of). I was caught up in the cleverness of the macabre set-up more than the execution of some of its hackneyed thriller conceits. Sometimes the scary violin music is cued up inorganically, when a withdrawn silence would have been more threatening. Some of the CGI in the dream sequences seemed a bit unnecessary too, when Ricci's stiff movements and exchanges with Neeson are more harrowing than any pop-up book apparition. The direction is crisp and clean, the only mis-step being when Long backhands the Halle Joel Osmond kid when he won't stop bugging him (and the roar of laughter that went up from the audience). Radiohead's "Exit Music For A Film" is a brilliant song to play over the credits as lines "Breath, keep breathing" capture the perfect mood, though I wished that kind of cleverness would have been more present in the film and not just over the credits. Director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo said very little at the screening I attended other than Liam Neeson couldn't make it, and that Long gave a surprising emotional performance (he was better in Jeepers Creepers). Though I was never bored with the film, there isn't very much more to say about other than it's a clever and competently performed. I imagine this will peak some interests for the amount of Christina Ricci nudity, and to see Liam Neeson try for scary in a Robin Williams "1 Hour Photo"/"Insomnia" kind of way. An entertaining and efficient thriller that sticks to its mystery/horror guns, but sadly After.Life proves to be little more than an after thought.

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