Well, this one is just kinda sad.
When I put this movie on the list, it was a real last minute addition, and I wasn’t super intrigued by it. It wasn’t until later that I realized it starred Liam Neeson, of all people, and Christina Ricci (The Addam’s Family for LIFE). Justin Long is in it, too, but I never recognize him by name (sorry, Justin.) I thought I might be in for a real treat with two actors who have graced the horror genre before, and Liam Neeson, but I didn’t find this move nearly as scary as I found it full of desperation and confused hope.
Directed by Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo and available on Hulu, I would recommend giving After.Life a chance if you’re into slow-moving think pieces on life and death and if you don’t mind seeing poor Ricci a bunch.
***SPOILERS ARE IN YOUR FUTURE***
In this film, Ricci plays Anna, a regularly distracted teacher who seems almost bored with her boyfriend, Paul (Justin Long) as they spend time in his sterile-white bedroom and bathroom. Everything around Anna seems large: Paul, the room, the ever-expanding white space. Right from the start, we see Anna small and vulnerable, and, with her big ol’ eyes staring over top of her near-constant frown, it’s evident that she is less than content with life. Of course, the film takes this a step further by having her shove her medication (I’m not sure if it’s ever named or reasoned) down her throat throughout the day until the bottle is empty.
Later on, Anna meets Paul at a fancy restaurant, where he plans to propose to her. But, when Paul brings up his promotion and a move to Chicago (in prelude to asking Anna to go with him), Anna thinks he is breaking up with her, and the two fight. Paul says she is “just as crazy as her mother,” the first hint of Anna’s troubled childhood. Anna storms out to her car and ignores Paul’s plea to stay as she drives out to an actual storm.
It’s a nervewracking minute or two (maybe more) before Anna crashes and dies. If you read the movie description, you already know she’s going to die–and, yet, I was really hoping she’d make it out. And the crash isn’t shown, really; Anna just wakes up on a table with Eliot (Liam Neeson) hovering over her and preparing her for her funeral that week.
What After.Life does really well is inject the story into every part of the, well, story; the narrative isn’t just setting up Anna and Paul’s relationship, because it’s also setting up the reason Anna dies, and the reason Paul later cannot save her. This film provides a classic case of unreliable narration, namely in Eliot telling Anna she’s a corpse while she clearly feels she is talking to him and breathing and thinking. Without spoiling too much, I’ll say After.Life deals deftly with being inside the POV of multiple characters and still maintaining that edge of, “Is she really dead?”
In the days leading up to the funeral, Eliot slowly convinces Anna that she is, indeed, dead, and he can simply talk to the dead. He calls it a gift, but the words come out of his mouth as if he’s unhappy that they even exist.
Meanwhile–and this is something I didn’t love about the movie–viewers get a lot of Paul time. Paul tries to see Anna’s body, but Eliot won’t let him because he isn’t family. At home, Paul sees visions of Anna, and desperately tries to find a way inside Eliot’s funeral home to see her, but he’s foiled every time.
The real wild card in this film is little Jack (Chandler Canterbury), who was one of Anna’s students, a meek little boy bullied by some of the older children and completely ignored by his TV-zombie mother. Little impressionable Jack really seems to like Anna, especially whens he saves him from bullies and sends him home with a scared class chick to take care of. But Jack’s loyalties are not strong, and, when he attends the wrong funeral, thinking it was for his teacher, he meets Eliot, and a strange bond begins.
Going through all of these characters would have probably made a better TV show, honestly, but being able to leave Anna behind in her stark, lonely room definitely allowed viewers room to breathe, and every scene in one of the other characters’ heads confused the question of whether or not Anna really died, so I think it was worth it.
But there were a few bits that seemed to be trying o be scary and, yet, made little impression on me for their visual or their meaning. At one point, Anna gets some special little dream scenes, sort of, one of which where she is transported to another house and sees Paul and a bunch of wailing women surrounding a bed or table that pulls her in with bad CGI vines. It felt out of tone of the movie; Jack and Eliot are creepy enough, and Anna’s lack of hope with Paul’s intense conviction give the movie plenty of atmosphere and oomph. That scene (and even the scene where vision-Anna pulls out her heart in Paul’s bathroom) didn’t hold me as well as scenes where Eliot and Anna calmly discuss why she is dead and what that means.
And the most memorable scene of the film, for me, at least? After Eliot has told Jack that they share the same gift to see the dead, and that all Eliot does is aid those who are taking up space form the rest of us, Jack places his frightened chick in a box and buries it, alive, in his backyard.
I’ll leave the ending out for those who’d like to watch, but let’s just say that it made me so sad I had to watch something else before I could go to sleep. So that’s a yikes from me!