Christina Ricci. Damn. I remember seeing her in The Addam’s Family back in 1991 and thinking, “Holy Hell, that’s one weird looking kid”. Over the years, she’s grown considerably less weird looking and has blossomed into a bona fide beauty. She’s also demonstrated that she has no problem showing a little skin, with fearless turns in Prozac Nation and the underrated southern gothic fairy tale that is Black Snake Moan. Fans of Ricci’s…umm…physique will be delighted to learn that she’s, once again, doffing her clothes in Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo’s psychological horror/thriller After.Life, spending a good part of the film’s running time in the buff. While I’m certainly not suggesting that the film’s worth watching for this reason alone…oh, who am I kidding; of course I am. But it also helps that After.Life, which co-stars Liam Neeson and Justin Long, is as visually scrumptious as its pint-sized leading lady, and a pretty entertaining little shocker to boot.
Ricci stars as Anna, a young schoolteacher struggling with an awkward period in her relationship with her boyfriend, Paul (Long). While she loves Paul, Anna has problems comprehending why anyone would love her; an issue that stems from her troubled childhood. She’s also concerned that Paul, an up and coming executive, will leave her as he’s been offered a position elsewhere, and, as a result, she’s grown defensive and increasingly detached. Unbeknownst to Anna, Paul has no intention of leaving her behind, and sets up a dinner date where he intends to ask her to be his bride. Anna, however, misinterprets something Paul says at dinner and drives away in a torrential rainstorm, gets in an accident, and awakens hours later on a slab in Eliot Deacon’s (Neeson) mortuary. Anna refuses to accept the fact that she’s dead, but Eliot, who tells her that only he can hear her, assures her that she is very much deceased and that it is his job to ease her into accepting that fact.
Meanwhile, a grief-stricken Paul is furious that Eliot won’t let him see the body before the funeral, despite being the closest thing she has to family (besides her abusive and estranged mother, Beatrice). Matters are made worse when, while picking up Anna’s things from her classroom, he is confronted by the eccentric young Jack, one of Anna’s favorite students who has also developed an interest in the mysterious mortician. Jack tells Paul that Anna is alive and that he’s seen her wandering around Eliot’s home. At first, Paul is furious and thinks the boy is playing a sick joke, but, after a bizarre late night phone call and further rebuffed attempts to see his girlfriend’s body, Paul begins to wonder if Eliot’s telling the truth about Anna.
After.Life is a stylish, well-acted, and meticulously well-crafted psychological thriller, and makes for an impressive feature debut from Wojtowicz-Vosloo. While the plot has more than a few holes and logic lapses, it’s a visually impressive film, with wonderfully moody setpieces that accentuate the film’s gothic underpinnings. The scenes with Ricci, in particular, are shot in a manner that evoke the early films of Barbara Steele, with exaggerated contrast, desaturated colors, and eerie diffusion lending the scenes a surreal, dreamlike quality. This not only lends to the film’s mystery – the question of is she or isn’t she- but elevates what would have otherwise been a formulaic indie thriller to an artsy and atmospheric new level. The performances are strong across the board, with Neeson making for a sublime “villain” and Ricci oozing both vulnerability and sex appeal in equal doses. The real surprise, though, was the subdued and decidedly serious showing by Justin Long who shows he is just as adept at drama as he is at comedy.
After.Life comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Anchor Bay/Starz!, and is presented in a very solid 2.40:1 transfer. The level of detail is fantastic, especially in the myriad close-ups of Ricci’s face, where fine lines and wrinkles are readily apparent. The cool, muted color palette is offset by brilliant instances of red (lipstick, Anna’s dress) that jump off of the screen, while blacks are inky and free of artifacts or excess grain. The PCM 5.1 audio track is equally impressive, with nicely mixed surround effects, clean and organic sounding dialogue, and pronounced bass all combining to create an immersive aural experience.
Extras include a commentary track from Wojtowicz-Vosloo, a brief making-of featurette entitled “Dwelling into the After.Life: The Art of Making a Thriller” (HD), and trailers for this and other Anchor Bay/Starz! releases (HD). While there aren’t an abundance of extras, this is a case of quality over quantity, with the commentary, in particular, serving as a rich and informative look into Wojtowicz-Vosloo’s process.
While it’s all a bit predictable at times, and there are the aforementioned lapses in logic and plot holes, After.Life is such a visually accomplished and well-acted film that it rises above these shortcomings. This is a really impressive debut for Wojtowicz-Vosloo, and I, for one, can’t wait to see what she can do with a stronger script and storyline. The Blu-ray from Anchor Bay/Starz! looks and sounds absolutely fantastic, and the bonus features, while few, are of high quality and will surely enhance your viewing experience as well as your appreciation for the film. Oh, and did I mention naked Christina Ricci? Woot!