Unrelated to the Hirokazu Kore-eda movie of the same name, the unclassifiable gothic thingie After.Life stars Christina Ricci as a young woman who gets in a car accident and wakes under the care of creepy funeral-home director Liam Neeson. She may or may not be dead, so the tense conversations she has with Neeson are either abstract and metaphysical, like some strange way-station between life and death, or terrifyingly literal, if she’s really alive and Neeson is keeping her captive. (Between this, Black Snake Moan, and Buffalo ’66, Ricci apparently has a fondness for roles where she’s prisoner to the oddly obsessed.) That neither-here-nor-there quality gives After.Life some distinction, but it also accounts for why the film is so maddeningly inert, caught in a pretentious no-man’s land between horror and melodrama.
First-time feature director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, who scripted with her husband Paul Vosloo, brings sharp colors and a sterile chill to the scenes of Neeson quietly tormenting Ricci on the slab. Their back-and-forth is the main attraction, but they’re essentially repeating the same conversation: Neeson insists Ricci is dead and he’s merely ushering her ungrateful soul to another place, and she suspects otherwise. Meanwhile, Justin Long more or less reprises his Drag Me To Hell role as Ricci’s boyfriend, the hapless Everyman trying to protect her from supernatural doom. Wojtowicz-Vosloo keeps the pace at a stylish slow-burn for much of the way, and Neeson acquits himself by underplaying what might have been an overtly ghoulish villain. But all their efforts just contribute to the excessive foot-dragging that leads the big reveal, which pegs After.Life as an overlong, absurdly attenuated Twilight Zone episode.