Friday, April 09, 2010

Macabre Carpe Diem: After.Life

Who knew someone who works around corpses could be so creepy? Funeral director Eliot Deacon is either the Angel of Death or a fiendish serial killer. Either way, you do not want to end up on his slab in Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo’s After.Life (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

Due to her own emotional hang-ups, Anna does not get a lot of joy out of life. Her bland boyfriend Paul is about to pop the question, but misinterpreting his awkward preface as a breakup speech, she leaves the restaurant distraught, crashing her car and dying. At least, that is what Deacon tells her. Like the kid in The Sixth Sense, he can communicate with dead people, a supernatural talent particularly suited to his chosen profession.

Deacon claims he just wants to help ease Anna’s transition by convincing her to let go of her hold on life. However, she is understandably suspicious of Deacon, since she still seems to have all her bodily functions. Of course, he retorts all stupid corpses think that way initially.

The Warsaw-born Wojtowicz-Vosloo (pictured) is a talented young director who creates a masterfully eerie tone throughout After.Life. Anastas N. Michos’s lensing also stylishly contributes to the film’s icy vibe. However, there are no twists to the story that audiences will not be expecting nearly right from the start and the climax is distinctly underwhelming. Frankly, the entire is-Deacon-supernatural–or-is-he-a-psychopath motif just becomes tiresome after a while. Still, Christina Ricci’s creepy fans will probably eat it up like catnip, since she spends most of the film in various stages of undress as the recently deceased (or is she?) Anna.

In fact, Ricci is surprisingly effective as the disturbed and departed (or is she?) protagonist, while Liam Neeson shows a bit of flair as the Karloff-esque horror movie heavy. However, After.Life’s credibility just craters whenever Justin Long mopes into the viewfinder as the grieving Paul. Best known as the Mac guy in the Apple commercials, Long has never been convincing on-screen, except when he has been cast as a stoner (witness Youth in Revolt, in which he was actually pretty funny).

After.Life represents some skillful genre filmmaking, but the end product is undone by little details, like the story and supporting performances. While it looks great, it never really delivers the goods. It opens in New York today (4/9) at Regal 42nd Street and AMC Village 7.