Sunday, 7 May 2017

After.Life (3½ Stars)

I spelt the film title correctly. It's the words "After" and "Life" separated by a dot. I hate it when film titles are deliberately misspelt or written in unnatural English. That's just me though. Laugh at me if you will. In a world of grammar Nazis I'd be Adolf Hitler.

A young school teacher, Anna Taylor, is involved in a car accident. She wakes up on a table in a funeral home with a funeral director standing over her stitching her wounds. She wants to go home, but he tells her she's dead. She tells him he's mad, but he insists. He tells her he has the gift of talking to the dead, and only he can hear her talk. She has to remain with him three days while he prepares her for her funeral, making her look as beautiful as possible for being put on display before burial.

Anna is confused. She's lying in a room with other corpses. She sees the director talking to the corpses, seemingly holding conversations with them, but she can't hear their replies. Over the next three days she swings from one extreme to the other. Sometimes she tries to escape, sometimes she accepts that she's dead and remains calmly where she is.

I've never seen Liam Neeson look so creepy. I'd be terrified if I woke up and found him standing over me with that sickly smile. He's best known as an action hero, but he plays the role of the funeral director Eliot Deacon perfectly. The more pleasant he attempts to be the more terrifying he becomes. He should appear in more horror films.

Eliot is very diligent as a funeral director, treating the corpses in his care with the greatest of respect, but he does have a few strange traits. For instance, he takes Polaroid photos of each corpse before the funeral and hangs them in a gallery in his bedroom, so that he can admire the beauty of the dead.

By the time Anna is moved from the cold metal table into a comfortable coffin she's given up arguing. The viewer is kept uncertain throughout the film whether she's really dead or not.

In addition to the horror of the film there's a sick aspect of voyeurism. For much of the film Christina Ricci is naked. Her beauty is only tarnished by wounds she received in the car accident. The question the film is asking me is whether I can be sexually aroused by a corpse. Of course not, I automatically reply. Then the film continues by saying that maybe the woman isn't really dead, so I'm allowed to lust. Should I take a chance and let myself go before I know the answer? It's an eerily unsettling dilemma.

The film isn't without its faults. My main criticism is that it repeatedly relies on dreams to scare the viewer. I've never liked dreams in films, they're a cheap plot device. The viewer is told that something is happening, then suddenly it's as if the director shrieks with laughter and says, "Haha! I got you! That never happened!" That's bad.

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