Bad Movies Done Right – After.Life

Every week Robert Saucedo shines a spotlight on a movie either so bad it’s good or just downright terrible. Today: Hey After.Life, I’m also a fan of terrible. punctuation.

There’s a scene in the film After.Life where Anna Taylor, the character played by Christina Ricci, is confronted by a ghostly child claiming to be a younger version of Ricci’s character. The child chastises Anna for never quite reaching her true potential — her message being Anna Taylor died a long time ago.

It didn’t matter if the young woman was still breathing and walking around on her two feet, she had wasted her life and was essentially dead. What an apt image.

Christina Ricci was a precocious, Chihuahua-eyed child actress who never quite found her niche as an adult. While Ricci has stared in a handful of superb films over the last ten years (especially the one-two punch in 2006 with Penelope and Black Snake Moan), the actress hasn’t quite found the success she seemed destined for when she was a child going toe-to-toe with acclaimed actors such as Cher, Angelica Huston and Raul Julia.

While Ricci’s career is certainly far from dead, one has to wonder about its vitality while she continues to star in films such as After.Life.

Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo directs After.Life from a script by herself and Paul Vosloo and Jakub Korolczuk.

In the movie, Ricci stars as a young woman who, after driving home in bad weather after a fight with her boyfriend, wakes up on the cold, metal table of a funeral home. Liam Neeson plays Eliot Deacon, the funeral director who claims that it is his purpose to help transition her between life and death.

The film plays with the mystery of whether or not Anna Taylor is really dead or if she is the captive of some psychotic who gets his jollies from torturing people who’ve been in car accidents. The movie offers plenty of red hearings and cheap tricks but I’ll be the first to warn you the ending is ultimately unsatisfying. If you’re pegging your enjoyment of the film on a cool twist worthy of vintage Shyamalan, you’re out of luck.

The film plays like a prolonged morality tale with an erotic fetish twist. Ricci, who spends half of the movie caked in white make-up and in various states of undress, seems to be trying her best to audition for the Suicide Girls. In the end, though, the movie is a mess of half-developed ideas and a prime example of a director wanting to have her cake, eat it and also smear it all over the walls like some kind of unruly monkey. The director never quite deciding on the tone and rules of her film, After.Life is like a student film in that its filled to the brim with ideas but lacking in maturity.

Ricci and Neeson both do respectable jobs in their performances — engaging in long scenes where the two face off in tense dialogue over the meaning of life, death and everything in between. Unfortunately, the script is a mess of wannabe serial killer justification and self-absorbed whining. Neither of the characters is likable so watching the two of them take center stage for a majority of the film can be a bit tiresome.

Justin Long appears as Anna Taylor’s boyfriend — a successful yuppie who’s tumultuous relationship with Anna could either be her salvation or her damnation. Between After.Life and Drag Me to Hell, Long has found a successful rhythm in his performances as the concerned boyfriend. He hits all the notes he needs to and does a decent job with what he’s given but, as with Ricci and Neeson, he’s not given a lot.

The director does have a great visual eye — reminding me of times of Tarsem Singh. Unfortunately, any visual prowess is hampered by the weak story and even weaker dialogue. The film could have really have used a rewrite in order to salvage something out of the framework.

After.Life suffered some long delays and extensive reediting. I’m not sure if what I saw was the director’s final intent or not but whatever it was — I didn’t much enjoy it.

The movie has some interesting ideas and a great visual identity but not even a stellar cast and a healthy amount of nudity could elevate the subpar script out of the mundane hell it had been cast in.

I’m interested to see what’s next for Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo but I do hope she teams up with a top-notch writer next time. She has a lot of promise as a director but I’d hate for her to be drug down by her writing.

Robert Saucedo wonders if After.Life will eventually make a good double-feature with I’m.mortal. Follow Robert on Twitter @robsaucedo2500.

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