Death: funnier than you think?

04/08/2010 11:00 PM |


After.Life

Directed by Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo


Christina Ricci, looking at her pale, putrefying body in a mirror, asks, “Why do I look like a corpse?” “Because you are a corpse,” her undertaker answers. After.Life is so funny! But, sigh, if only somebody had told the director; Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo plays that comic exchange for tears instead of laughs. Throughout her feature debut she repeatedly tries to wring significance from a script (which she wrote with Paul Vosloo and Jakub Korolczuk) that’s inherently full of conspicuous camp: A policeman turns up at the morgue to peek under the covers and ogle corpse-tits; Justin Long beats up a little kid in an elementary school hallway. And she wants us to gasp in horror?

A sunken and skeletal Ricci plays Anna, a passionless schoolteacher always bickering with her boyfriend (Justin Long); after one fight, she dies, drunk dialing while driving. Liam Neeson, for once just an overprotective father figure, plays a mortician with a “gift” that allows him to confab with the cadavers, a sort of spirit guide who prepares the dead to unburden themselves of their past lives and move peacefully into the next world—which provides an opening in the script for lots of mumbo jumbo about Letting Go. The real “horror” here is that, in death, there’s just as much emotional pain as there was in life. (Ahhh!) And, also—is Neeson who he says he is? The requisite twist hangs over the film like an aura, more ever-present than revealed.

To miss it, you’d have to be as oblivious to Hollywood conventions as the director is to just how hilarious this movie wants to be. After.Life is begging for the sensibility of somebody like Sam Raimi. Long’s presence brings Drag Me to Hell to mind, Neeson evokes fond memories of Darkman, and one wishes those films’ goofy splattermeister were around to turn this movie’s frown upside down. Instead, Wojtowicz-Vosloo soberly imbues a bobblehead with menace; she reduces a diva role to that of a mere harridan. An empty-eyed old woman shows up in a dream sequence to tell Ricci, “You’re. Not. Ready.” And then walks away. Shit, Raimi would have had them vomiting and making out! The humorlessness climaxes when Radiohead’s “Exit Music (for a Film)” is selected as exit music (for the film)—for its haunting timbre. Anyone who could pull some shit like that without cracking a smile really needs to get over themselves.

Opens April 9