Young couple Paul (Justin Long) and Anna (Christina Ricci) are toying with the prospect of marriage when they have a chance encounter with Eliot (Liam Neeson), a mysterious undertaker who claims he can speak with the dead. When Anna becomes caught in the otherworldly realm between life and death, she risks being buried alive. Will Eliot help her, or is he being driven by darker motivations?
Quite a few folks in the movies have seen dead people, especially since The Sixth Sense
, but After.Life
gives this by-now-familiar conceit an intriguing spin. As director-cowriter Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo's 2009 film would have it, the deceased aren't exactly dead. At least not yet; in the days between whatever killed them and the moment they're put in a box and lowered six feet under, they're caught in some kind of purgatory, no longer alive but still able to move and communicate. Not to everyone, of course; only Eliot Deacon (Liam Neeson) has the ability, be it a gift or a curse, to converse with these infernal travelers as he readies them for their final rest in the basement of his funeral home. That's where he meets Anna Taylor (Christina Ricci), who died in a car crash following a nasty argument with her boyfriend, Paul (Justin Long). Anna, not surprisingly, is in denial. How can she be dead, when she can still walk, talk, and experience emotions? Well, it's complicated, but Eliot's there to help her sort it all out--that is, unless he's up to something considerably more sinister, a question that remains in doubt even at the very end. After.Life
has a cool concept, a good look, an ominous vibe (driven by former Tangerine Dream member Paul Haslinger's relentlessly spacy, downbeat musical score), and some fine performances. But movies like this depend on the rules and boundaries the filmmakers establish. In The Sixth Sense
, those rules ("dead people don't know they're dead," etc.) are simple and consistent. Here they're a bit more confusing. How can the deceased wield a knife, open a locked door, or even make a phone call? If Anna is dead, why can she still see her breath on a windowpane? The willingness to accept such things may well affect one's appreciation of this very absorbing film. --Sam Graham