AFTER.LIFE tries to be a thoughtful consideration of what it means to be alive, but instead devolves into an advertisement for red lingerie and mortuary science as a challenging career choice. The lingerie is a short charmuese slip worn through most of the film by co-star Christina Ricci, whose wardrober receives a special credit. The challenging career is practiced by Liam Neeson, as funeral director Eliot Deacon, whose gift is that he can speak with the recently deceased, though he is tired of arguing with them about their having expired. The film itself is just a lackadaisical mess that confuses sotto voice with creepy.
Ricci is Anna, a recently deceased schoolteacher unwilling to accept her new status as non-living. She has unfinished business with boyfriend Paul (Justin Long). He wanted to propose, she misunderstood his proposal and drove out into the stormy night and right into a truck. That’s the first five minutes or so, The rest of the flick is Ricci, in various states of undress, engaging in an extended, strained, and painfully pedantic dialogue about whether or not she is dead and just what the limitations of a non-living state are when it comes to interacting with the living who are not Deacon.
It’s far less interesting than it sounds, despite much of it taking place with Ricci on a mortuary slab, despite a spooky kid (Chandler Canterbury) with Deacon’s gift, and given dream sequences that are so mired down in obvious symbolism that there is no room for any hint of the macabre.
The performances are as leaden as the pacing and as lugubrious as the art direction, with only Long rising to a credible level of anguish as he comes to his own terms with Anna’s death, a process that involves becoming unhinged. Neeson looks melancholy, Ricci looks bored, and the spooky little kid looks generically spooky.
For all the strict adherence to the tropes of the genre, big gothic-style house serving as the funeral home, a hulking funeral director with bizarre predilections, and what should be a tantalizing question about the reality of what is going on, AFTER.LIFE is a distasteful exercise in the proper disposition of the deceased during funeral preparations with less blood in it than the corpses that populate it. It’s greatest achievement, other than allowing Ms. Ricci to show off the impressive results of her fitness regime, is giving the viewer pause to wonder whether or not the flickering eyelids on the corpse in the coffin at a wake are deliberate or accidental. And that’s more annoying than intriguing.