On paper, the indie flick After.Life sounds terrific. Liam Neeson plays an undertaker who may be crazy, or may be a supernatural creature who helps the restless dead like Christina Ricci accept their fates. Unfortunately it feels rote. Spoilers!
One reason we were excited about this movie, other than the promise of Neeson and Ricci plumbing the depths of undead weirdness, was that ads teased it as urban fantasy. And indeed, for the first third of the film you'll think you've stumbled into a smart, supernatural tale of a woman, Anna, who dies basically because she's being a complete bitch. Anna gets into an accident because she's freaked out from screaming at her boyfriend in a restaurant for no reason other than high strung neediness. When her body arrives at the funeral home, we meet Eliot (Neeson), the long-suffering guy who sees dead people. And who has to deal with all her annoying undead snark as she slowly realizes how awful her bitchy life has been.
I like the idea of dead people being annoying. And I was prepared to sympathize with the undertaker who is just plain losing patience with the ghosts of all these whiny, privileged people who just can't believe they've died.
Unfortunately, the movie veers in the most predicable, Saw-like direction possible just as the characters are starting to crackle with originality. Turns out (ho hum) that Eliot really is just a serial killer. And his main goal is cutting off more and more of Anna's clothing as he shoots her up with drugs that paralyze her and slow her heart beat. That's right: He's making her think she's dead so he can get his jollies. It's cliched necro torture porn, which sadly can't be made fun to watch even when great acting and Ricci's goth girl nudity are involved.
There are the requisite scenes of ogling dead bodies and crazy mumbling and fruitless efforts on the part of Anna's boyfriend to rescue her. Nothing about the story feels mysterious or creepy. It's just getting from car accident at point A to "blah blah fate worse than death" at point B.
Because we figure out right away that Eliot is just a Hannibal wanna-be, there is no suspense. And because we actually agree with Anna when she says, "I'm glad I'm dead," it's hard to fear for her. In the end, you'll wish you just went to see Clash of the Titans to watch Neeson ham it up, or that you trolled the internet for hot pictures of Ricci, instead of buying tickets to this limp horror flick.