After.Life (2009)

Genres - Thriller  |   Sub-Genres - Psychological Thriller, Supernatural Thriller  |   Release Date - Apr 9, 2010 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 104 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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After.Life is a smart little horror-thriller with a pretty original hook: an undertaker who can talk to the recently deceased corpses on his slabs. But is he a malevolent force trying to doom people whose lives have yet to fully run their course, or does he just have a gift for talking to departed souls, who distrust him because they're understandably terrified by their new circumstances? Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo smartly walks this line throughout, giving Liam Neeson's character a sinister edge, but stopping short of defining him as an out-and-out villain. The story really has to do with the struggles of the protagonist, Anna (Christina Ricci), to determine what's real and what isn't -- what parts of the funeral home in which she's confined can she actually manipulate, and what parts are only in her imagination. Again, Wojtowicz-Vosloo is reluctant to give concrete answers, and she heightens the tension by getting excellent camerawork and editing from her team. The visuals in After.Life really pop, and Ricci complements that aesthetic scheme. With her big, haunted eyes, her gaunt frame, and her sallow complexion, it's like she was born to play a corpse. This is by no means a backhanded compliment, because she gives the character true pathos and expertly dramatizes the panic and fear a body would feel in that kind of purgatory. Justin Long is also a good choice as her fiancé, sinking his teeth into some dramatic work that suits him well. Since After.Life is all about mood and atmosphere, it's worth mentioning another performer who contributes -- namely, Celia Weston as Anna's wheelchair-bound mother. She simply drips with a moribund contempt for Long's character, believing he contributed to the premature end of her estranged daughter's life. An underdog gem, After.Life announces Wojtowicz-Vosloo as a filmmaker to watch.