by Jef Burnham
Now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Anchor Bay Entertainment.
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I think the best way to relate my reaction to After.Life is to start by addressing one of the special features included on the release, called “Delving Into the After.Life: The Art of Making a Thriller.” One would expect this featurette to talk about the production, perhaps showing us some behind-the-scenes footage, talking with the cast and crew, etc. But that’s not it at all (which isn’t a problem necessarily, but hang with me here, there is a point to all this). Instead, this feature plods along for some 7 or 8 minutes as the film’s co-writer/director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo explains (in great detail) all the clues in the film that point toward the “disturbing truth” of the plot. Now, understand that I am not the sort to spend my time watching a thriller trying to guess how it will end. To me, guessing the ending takes all the fun out of it. I like the surprise. However, not only was each and every item detailed in “Delving Into the After.Life” painfully obvious to me throughout my first viewing, but so was the ending. And I wasn’t even trying to work it out.
Though solidly acted by Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson, and Justin Long within the limits of the screenplay; decently shot, especially in regards to the daytime exteriors; and emotionally affecting at points throughout, the film is ultimately transparently obvious, muddled thematically and devoid of any sort of levity that might endear us to the characters. Moreover, there isn’t even substantial setup for the characters, save for the primary couple’s (Ricci and Long) incessant and pointless fighting, which certainly didn’t convince me to invest in them emotionally. Curiously, though, we discover later that this thin, fight-based setup is key to one of the foremost thematic goals of the film. But this is really a Catch-22. In order for the thematic thread dealing with people’s inability to enjoy life to succeed, the characters must be miserable and confrontational from the start (resulting in much of the audience being distanced from them). On the flip side, for this theme to resonate, we must empathize with them in their discovery of their wasted lives, which we cannot from our resulting distanced vantage point. We must, yet cannot, take this journey with them.
Despite the film’s failure on these levels, I still somehow found myself creeped-out by the whole affair. The reason for this I later realized was that, in its failure to produce a coherent theme, the film’s horrific treatment of its characters is ultimately without reason (much like the later Saw films where the punishment of those who’ve wasted their lives ceases to be a theme, and becomes but a pretense for senseless torture). It is intentionally macabre and unintentionally pointless, and I found that quite upsetting.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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