Afterlife (2010) is an American supernatural thriller starring Liam Neeson (The A-Team, The Next Three Days), Christina Ricci (Speed Race, Black Snake Moan), and Justin Long (Going The Distance, Old Dogs) and is writer-direct Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo’s directorial debut from her original screenplay. The concept is intriguing, a funeral director with the gift of transitioning the dead to the “afterlife” but it quickly loses steam as everyone, including the cast, takes itself far too seriously and for far too long. The clumsy narrative takes shape through a series of deaths, preparations of the various bodies, and quick scenes showing relatives during visiting hours but the truth of the matter is it is too little too late and rarely as much of a thriller as a thrill-less ride down a dark, uninteresting road – destination unknown.
The impetus for the narrative is of course a car accident –what better way to deliver the living (Anna) to the middle-ground, otherwise known in some circles as limbo – and quickly becomes a guessing game whether the funeral director, Eliot Deacon (Neeson) is what he seems and whether Anna (Ricci) is dead or just doesn’t want to be. Add in an estranged would-be fiancé (Long) who bumbles around hapless for most of the movie until finally he discovers what he needs to unravel a series of mysterious and properly handled deaths in a small town that lead him to believe Deacon isn’t what he seems to be. One can’t help but wonder why no one else seemed the least bit concerned that people were dying like routine and always seemed to look just right with their favorite flower arrangement.
The problem with After.Life is just about everything, to be honest. Neeson hasn’t offered much since Michael Collins (1996) and dare I go back to Schindler’s List (1993) to really find him at his career best. Here he’s weathered and unbendable, expressionless in bad lighting and when he does deliver it’s not the least bit menacing or eerie. It’s as if the director wasn’t sure what she wanted and Neeson wasn’t interested in offering any suggestions. Christina Ricci looks good for a corpse, though personally her early films The Ice Storm and The Adams Family top just about everything she’s done since turning to the Hollywood svelte look. Her work here isn’t any more memorable than her role in Craig Brewer’s disappointing Black Snake Moan, perhaps even less dressed but she moves around the hapless script as though searching for more than whether or not she is really dead and more like direction that never arrives. Justin Long reminds one of a slightly less befuddled David Schwimmer (Friends) but his clueless refusal to ‘let go’ of his dead fiancé is clumsy and distracting and while he serves as to resolve the gimmicky ending, it’s ultimately unsatisfying.
The idea of After.Life sounds interesting on paper – a modern-day Charon from Greek mythology in the form of a funeral director instead of a boatman carrying souls of the newly deceased across the rivers Styx with a big fat syringe filled with, stuff. There is little clever and hardly anything remotely close to psychological or thrilling about this film which is unfortunate, since that is what it purports to be. The trailer is interesting, almost inviting, but sadly this story would have been better executed as a short, if at all or further character development might have given us more to attach ourselves to outside the question of what really does happen when we die? Hopefully, if we’re lucky, it doesn’t involve a decrepit old guy who doesn’t bend at the waist well and pats our shoulder while jabbing a syringe into our neck and sending us on our way.