APRIL 4, 2010
I have never been a big fan of Christina Ricci. She seemingly has two modes - anti-social outsider (Mermaids, Addams Family, Casper) or just plain unlikable (Pumpkin, Anything Else). In After.Life, she’s definitely in the latter mode, but her male fans probably won’t see it that way, since she spends roughly 2/3 of the movie in the nude. So if you’ve had any creepy urges since you saw Addams Family Values, consider this movie a godsend.
(I, on the other hand, consider it a letdown, now that I know that the far more appealing Kate Bosworth was originally cast in the role.)
In fact, Ricci might be at her most unpleasant here. She’s introduced being cold to her boyfriend (Justin Long, who more or less reprises his Drag Me To Hell character), dyes her hair to go to a funeral (?), and yells at Long for ordering some nice duck for her at a restaurant. Hell, her death is the result of her being a pain in the ass - as Long builds toward a proposal, she takes it as a break up message and freaks out, screaming at him and storming out of the restaurant, speeding in the rain and getting into an accident. All because she couldn’t wait for Long (ring in hand by his side!) to finish his sentence. Our protagonist, ladies and gentlemen. Later we learn she has a cold, unloving mother (Celia Weston, and I don’t mean to be mean here, but I really could go the rest of my life without ever looking at this woman’s face again), which sort of explains her own hang ups, but it doesn’t make it any easier to root for her character or sympathize with her plight. If you’re going to make your character a bit of a jerk, it helps to have someone who the audience can project some good nature towards due to their usually sunny demeanor, or at least someone with range. Michelle Williams could have done wonders in the role. Or even a comic actress taking a chance - Anna Faris, perhaps.
Ricci’s not the biggest problem though - the movie’s length is. The whole movie concerns her being convinced she’s not dead and trying to escape from the mortuary run by an “off” Liam Neeson (who is terrific), as well as Long becoming increasingly convinced that she’s not dead and trying to find out for sure. Likeable or not, it gets awfully tiring watching her go through the same motions over and over. Neeson leaves for some reason, she gets up off the slab and tries to find something to break down the door with, or tries to find the key to open the door, or tries to open ANOTHER door once she opens the first one. Then Neeson invariably comes back and tells her she’s dead. Long’s scenes are slightly less repetitive, but it gets to the point where it becomes completely ridiculous that he cannot see the body. The movie takes place over a week - who takes that long to be buried, let alone seen at the wake?
This causes problems in the timeline as well. The whole movie hinges on whether or not Ricci is really dead, but after 5 days she most certainly WOULD be due to not having any food or water (or at least have pneumonia from laying naked on a cold table for days on end). So not only does the movie have too much repetition in its plotting, it also has too much time on its hands - it would have been beneficial for them to have compressed the timeline into 2-3 days max.
It IS successful, however, in showing the audience what it must be like to be a mortician. We watch Neeson go about his duties: sorting out their belongings, prepping the body for viewing (such as sewing the mouth together so that the jaw doesn’t drop open), injecting them with a formula that can slow down rigor mortis (allowing him to work with the body more easily), etc. And I assume it’s all correct, since it’s so detailed. I assume most morticians don’t have the ability to talk to the deceased’s spirit, however.
Ultimately though, it’s certainly an intriguing, mostly engaging movie (it wasn’t until the final 20 minutes or so that I started losing interest - I didn’t care if she was alive or dead, I just wanted the movie to conclude). It could have been sort of jokey, like that Stephen King story (turned into a Nightmares & Dreamscapes episode, both of which are based on an old Alfred Hitchcock episode that I haven’t seen), or just filled with a lot of generic Carnival of Souls moments, but the rather serious, even thoughtful approach to death was a nice surprise. And Neeson is terrific either way you look at it - if you think she’s dead, then he’s a caring, possibly lonely man who takes his job seriously and really wants to put these folks to rest. And if she’s alive, then he’s the scariest mother fucker who ever lived. Neeson is one of a handful of actors who could pull this off (and I’m not sure originally cast Alfred Molina is one of them), and I was happy to see what I thought would be a rather brief role become pretty much the lead - he’s never off camera for more than a few minutes at a time.
Anchor Bay is releasing this in theaters, but if their release of Frozen was any indication, you won’t know it unless you look (and look hard) at your listings on the day of release. Can’t say it’s definitely one to see in theaters, but it IS original, and strange enough to warrant a look despite its flaws. And that's the saddest irony - Anchor Bay is the only studio putting out original horror fare on a steady basis, but they lack the advertising savvy for anyone to find it. But there's a fucking Nightmare on Elm St poster on every corner.
What say you?