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After.Life DVD Review

After.Life (2010) movie poster After.Life

Theatrical Release: April 9, 2010 / Running Time: 103 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo / Writers: Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, Paul Vosloo, Jakub Korolczuk

Cast: Christina Ricci (Anna Taylor), Liam Neeson (Eliot Deacon), Justin Long (Paul Coleman), Chandler Canterbury (Jack Whitehall), Celia Weston (Beatrice Taylor), Luz Ramos (Diane), Josh Charles (Captain Tom Peterson), Rosemary Murphy (Mrs. Whitehall), Malachy McCourt (Father Graham), Shuler Hensley (Vincent Miller), Alice Drummond (Mrs. Hutton)

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What is more depressing than death? According to After.Life, what comes next. This thriller doesn't deal with heaven or hell, but a more immediate fate for the newly deceased.

Among them, our attention is turned to Anna Taylor (Christina Ricci), a pill-popping middle school teacher killed in a rainy nighttime car crash. Or was she? The images shown and facts given appear to be called into doubt. Funeral director Eliot Deacon (Liam Neeson) explains Anna's predicament to her, claiming his gift is to communicate with those whose souls have not yet left their bodies and moved onto the afterlife. Anna, who breathes, talks, and walks, questions Eliot's official account. As do we, not only because of the creepy pride he takes in his work, but because if he's telling the truth, do we really have a movie?

Schoolteacher Anna Taylor (Christina Ricci) responds to news of her death with disbelief. Though he's going for calm and comforting, undertaker Eliot Deacon (Liam Neeson) comes across as anything but as he shares with his patients information about their departure.

Held in chilly captivity and occasionally drugged into submission, Anna isn't the only suspicious one. Among the unquestionably living, her smitten boyfriend (and near-fiancι) Paul (Justin Long) is grieving on his own, kept away from seeing the body by the dutiful undertaker and Anna's disapproving wheelchair-bound mother (Celia Weston). Meanwhile, Jack (Chandler Canterbury), a sympathetic bullied student of Anna's whose own elderly mother is strangely silent and fixated on old black & white TV programs, wonders if something isn't amiss at the funeral home.

After.Life, whose title-splitting period is never clarified (leaving us to wonder if it's supposed to sound like a website), deals with most unpleasant subject matter. A mortician's calling is one that puzzles most people on some level and one which this movie relishes delving into. Stitching wounds and agape mouths shut all the while addressing and comforting his generally unresponsive subjects, Deacon is a disturbing fellow that few viewers will appreciate spending time with. Though open to interpretation throughout, his calm villainy seems hardly in doubt as he provides untrustworthy answers and confirmable lies.

Would-be fiancι Paul Coleman (Justin Long) is wracked with grief and some guilt upon visiting the middle school where Anna taught. Young pupil Jack (Chandler Canterbury) takes his fascination with death to a cemetery.

The movie slowly reveals itself to have more layers than its morbid mortuary slab premise first indicates. But while its terrifying conceit takes shape, it never nears effectiveness, being delivered with minimum suspense and fright, just some disturbing corpse imagery.
This is a frustrating film, the kind which sets up a marriage proposal and senselessly refuses to see it through. Polish director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, making her feature debut eight years after her short NYU student film Pβtι received a slew of accolades, seems to take delight in that and similar moments where escape and discovery remain just out of reach.

The film gets more than just marketable names out of its three leading actors. Neeson, who has been as busy as ever lately, provides as much tact as his mildly ambiguous role can. Ricci, who bares her breasts and butt for much of the film (only sometimes with gruesome wounds visible nearby), earns our sympathy without ever really making sense of her character's odd quirks. Those two replaced Alfred Molina and Kate Bosworth, who were attached to this stalled project back in 2007. Getting a little less screentime, Long plunges to dramatic depths unexpected with his pain, convincingly but incohesively.

Following a limited release in 41 theaters last April, Anchor Bay brings After.Life to DVD and Blu-ray this week.

Buy After.Life on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled or Captioned
Release Date: August 3, 2010
Suggested Retail Price: $29.98
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on Blu-ray Disc ($34.98 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

After.Life boasts an impressive visual style which shines in the great picture quality of its sharp 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen DVD transfer. The element remains spotless and the palette of bold colors is consistent and rich. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack also satisfies, supplying apt atmosphere and exhibiting some restraint in its requisite crescendoed jumps.

Director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo discusses her first feature-length film alongside a clothed Christina Ricci clip. A bobblehead doll hauntingly bobbles its head in the car recovered from Anna's (fatal?) crash as part of the DVD main menu's montage.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Renters are especially likely to miss the DVD's longest bonus feature, an audio commentary relegated to the Set Up Menu. Director/co-writer Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo flies solo on her full-length debut. She does a good job explaining herself and revealing her curiosities and interests that won't likely align with viewers.
She discusses the brisk production and her funeral home research, but the track eventually devolves into her breaking down obvious plot points. Ultimately, she seems a little overproud of the screenplay (on which she is credited with her husband Paul Vosloo) and the hints dropped, but we still gain some welcome insight into the movie.

Next comes the 8-minute featurette "Delving Into the After.Life: The Art of Crafting the Perfect Thriller." Once again, Wojtowicz-Vosloo is the only one we hear from. She unequivocally clarifies the film's question (if it can be called that, and judging by the surprising debate on the ever-stimulating message boards of the Internet Movie Database, it can be) and points out clues like M. Night Shyamalan on The Sixth Sense. The piece is limited but appreciated.

Finally, we get After.Life's 2-minute theatrical trailer. "Also on DVD" holds trailers for The Disappearance of Alice Creed and "Spartacus: Blood and Sand", both of which play at disc insertion.

The main menu's piano-scored montage barely shares the screen with listings placed on a silhouette of untidy grass. The DVD is packaged in a reflective foil slipcover.

Plotting an escape, Anna (Christina Ricci) wields a knife while awaiting her fastidious mortician "captor" Eliot Deacon (Liam Neeson).

CLOSING THOUGHTS

After.Life is a creepy film not because it generates suspense, scares, or surprises, but because it lingers in a mortuary and dwells on the human body's funeral preparations. There is some substance to the story that you don't detect in your first few impressions and the movie exists as more than a showcase of Christina Ricci's pale, naked body. But the execution still leaves much to be desired and no amount of photographic and production design flourishes can divert attention from the fundamental weaknesses.

Anchor Bay's DVD's feature presentation and handful of supplements serve the film well. For those inclined towards mystery/thriller fare who are always looking to see new movies, this one might be worth a rental. But many viewers will find it too dark, bleak, ghastly, or undecided to enjoy.

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Starring Liam Neeson: Chloe | Justin Long: Youth in Revolt • Galaxy Quest (Deluxe Edition) • Planet 51 • Strange Wilderness
Christina Ricci: Prozac Nation • New York, I Love You • That Darn Cat (1997) • Grey's Anatomy: Season 2 • Speed Racer

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Reviewed August 2, 2010.



Text copyright 2010 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2010 Anchor Bay Films, Lleju Productions, Plum Pictures, Constellation Entertainment, and Anchor Bay Entertainment.
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