'After.life' a painful trip to purgatory

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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Film review

It would be wrong to say "After.life" is dead on arrival. In fairness, Christina Ricci and Liam Neeson's horror thriller takes a few minutes to roll over and die.

Once it does, though, the tale of a woman who wakes up dead in a funeral home decomposes and stinks up the joint faster than a body rotting in a desert swarming with flies.

It would be wrong to say "After.life" is dead on arrival. In fairness, Christina Ricci and Liam Neeson's horror thriller takes a few minutes to roll over and die.

Once it does, though, the tale of a woman who wakes up dead in a funeral home decomposes and stinks up the joint faster than a body rotting in a desert swarming with flies.

At its most titillating, writer-director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo's debut feature amounts to necrophiliac porn - Ricci lounging sexily on a mortician's slab either fully naked or in a short red underdress, like a poster girl for the Edgar Allan Poe Society.

At its worst, where to begin? All the hokey foreshadowing as schoolteacher Anna (Ricci) gets a bloody nose, lights wink out above her, unlocked doors won't open for her - portents leading up to her apparent death in a car wreck.

All the ramblings from funeral director Eliot Deacon (Neeson), who informs the disbelieving Anna that she's dead and hurls cruel, empty psychobabble ("You all say you're scared of death. But the truth is, you're more scared of life," or "Maybe you died a long time ago. Was your life worth hanging on to?").

All the filler material to pad this "Twilight Zone" scenario to movie length - empty flashbacks and pointless side action involving Anna's boyfriend (Justin Long, who did similar duty as beau to a doomed chick in "Drag Me to Hell").

Deacon explains that he has the gift - or curse - of conversing with the dead, helping them make the transition. But he seems more intent on berating them.

"You people," he sneers at the pleading denial of his terrified charges. "You all say the same thing."

But does he really have the gift? Or is he just a "Silence of the Lambs"-style ghoul?

Is Anna still alive, the latest victim of some twisted game by Deacon to bury people before their expiration date?

You won't have a clue - or rather, you'll have far too many clues, pointing in every direction - by the time "After.life" breathes its last.

Wojtowicz-Vosloo just piles on the nonsense - hints here that Anna's alive, signs there that no, she's truly dead - back and forth in a laughably incomprehensible muddle.

A psychological tease such as this needs a killer ending, but "After.life" succumbs with a lame groaner of a twist. Whether we live on after death is an open question, so the filmmakers seem content to leave viewers with a whole lot of questions where they just go, "Huh?"

And what's with that period in the title?

Is "After.life" the name of God's dot-com domain?

Neeson never does more than act like a big scary undertaker, though he manages it creepily enough. Ricci's performance belongs in a black comedy or a "Scary Movie" spoof - her whines and sniffles over being dead turning silly and shallow (it doesn't help that she's forced into some preposterous dream sequences, such as pulling out her own beating heart).

This afterlife's just a bore, except for a few macabre laughs that you hope were intentional (if they weren't, then the filmmakers have deeper problems).

If you wake up and find yourself in a dark theatre watching this mess, hurry, head toward the light - the one over the door that reads "Exit."

1 1/2 stars out of four

Organizations: Edgar Allan Poe Society

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