Death or psychosis


You have to let go of the living,” says the funeral director played by Liam Neeson to Anna, the dead schoolteacher in the red slip, played by Christina Ricci, in the new thriller After.Life. He sounds like the stage manager in a particularly grim production of Our Town. Anna, on the other hand, resembles the poor soul in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the one who’s not dead yet but is being treated as such.

The film’s guessing game is simple. Either the tense schoolteacher played by Ricci, who is a victim of a (fatal?) car accident, has expired and is being prepped for the afterlife by Neeson, or she’s alive but about to become this calmly sinister authority figure’s latest prey. Clean, precise and terribly sullen, After.Life is like its female protagonist. It feels stuck between worlds, or genres.

Debut feature film director Agnieszka Wojtowicz- Vosloo, who also worked on the screenplay, asks the big philosophical questions, including: Are the living cognizant of life as they’re drifting through en route to the grave? On the other hand, there’s enough skin to provoke the following headline on the Web site “A New Thriller Starring a Nude Christina Ricci!” Ricci can be an effective actress, though with her

eerie-teen years behind her, she too seems to be eternally on the cusp of whatever she’s turning into. That moon-face sits rather uneasily on the starlet’s body, and her voice seems to waver on its own accord. Still, she’s fearless, and After. Life presents her with a leading role, albeit a decorative and passive one.

We spend a lot of time in the sleek, severely art-directed confines of the funeral home, as Anna debates her situation with her captor while he sews up her wounds and moralizes ad nauseam and gets her open-casket-ready. Anna’s grieving boyfriend (Justin Long) senses that Anna may still be among the living. Composer Paul Haslinger sprays the dullest sort of scare music across every scene, and only Celia Weston — as the bitter mother of the schoolteacher — suggests a human pulse inside the games.

—MCT, Tribune Newspapers Respond:

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