Thursday, April 8, 2010

Dreary "After.Life" fails agenda

After.Life (2010)
104 min., rated R.
Grade: D +

“I can't be dead,” whines a tense schoolteacher (Christina Ricci), waking up under a sheet on a slab in a stately mortuary after a (fatal?) car accident. She's pronounced dead and prepared by a methodical funeral undertaker (Liam Neeson). Is she really a corpse running through limbo with Neeson her stage narrator from “Our Town” with Haley Joel Osment's sixth sense? Or alive and held captive by a really sick serial killer? 

Heavy on clinical ambience and clean visual precision (like Neeson's corpse preparations), Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo shoots her feature film debut, "After.Life," with a stylish preciousness for a blood-red-over-fleshy-white color scheme and a sleepy, almost pulseless pace. Moon-faced Ricci in a ruby slip looks as dead as ghostly white Wednesday Addams with baggage under her eyes, but has little to work with to make us care about her character. Liam Neeson proves he has soft-spoken, God-like vocals for sinister calm like Tobin Bell from the "Saw" movies. Justin Long looks as confused as we are as Ricci's sorrowful fiancĂ©e but gets to blow a gasket and backhand a young kid. 

This bizarrely dreary, muddled, portentous arthouse.psychological.horror hokum has unsettling ambitions, but it's too busy yanking our chain between dead-and-the-living philosophy and horror-movie morbidity. As it is, "After.Life" ends stuck somewhere in purgatory. And Ricci's naked body, post-"Black Snake Moan," on a morgue table should've been more fun and satisfying than it is.

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