Horror Becomes Her - After.Life (2009)
Horror and films directed by women are both big blind spots for me, so I am taking this deep dive into some of the more outre films I have come across in my movie watching.
Director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo was able to get After.Life on the strength of the screenplay, even though she had never made a feature-length film before. Indeed, the story and concept of After.Life is a bendy narrative full of twists and delightful ambiguity. Anna (Christina Ricci) is in a car accident after an altercation with her boyfriend (Justin Long). She wakes up in a mortuary where the mortician (Liam Neeson) is somehow talking to her even though he claims that she is dead. He claims to have a special gift of talking to the dead, and the whole film essentially walks the balance between the most extreme gaslighting to a pretty typical thriller.
Wojtowicz-Vosloo manages the atmosphere of the film well, with its chilly aesthetic, and the best scenes are where Christina Ricci has to figure out if she is truly dead as the mortician said or if she is being deceived. Ricci also carries these scenes very well as a soul in purgatory who is earnestly working hard to escape, even though there were plenty of ways that this narrative could have fallen apart logically. Also, Liam Neeson’s naturally charismatic persona is put to fairly effective, sinister use here.
When the movie takes place in the land of the living, however, it’s much shakier and the narrative falls into the patterns of movies that we have seen many times over, although, at least on a screenplay level, Wojtowicz-Vosloo tries to avoid those pitfalls. The story itself seems more interested in showing off the tricks themselves rather than to say anything meaningful or profound, which would have been fine, except that this movie feels like it wants to be important with a capital I.
Overall, while the concept is fun and will probably satisfy people who love movies that are puzzles, it feels generic, despite its attempts to put some sort of visual flourish on it. Perhaps a more experienced filmmaker could have elevated this material into something that is interesting to watch visually rather than just on a script level. I feel that if I were to rewatch this, there isn’t much more to mine from the story, although perhaps viewers who need more definitive answers might be compelled to rewatch this.