Radio 04.16.10
This is Ron Salfen, “At The Movies,” and here’s my commentary on “After Life,” which opened this week at the Angelika Theater in Dallas :
You know all those movies where immediately upon death, there’s a really bright light, and you get to go to a place that’s colorful and fantastic, with phenomenal visuals?
And if someone happens to have lingered in the twilight, and they return to the land of the living, they’re inevitably disappointed in the drabness, and want to return to the brightness?
            Well, that’s not what happens in “After.Life.”  We begin with a creepy Funeral Director named Eliot Deacon (Liam Neeson) conversing with his cadavers as if they could talk back, an obvious foreshadowing.  Then, we proceed immediately across town to a rather desultory lovemaking session between Paul (Justin Long) and Anna (Christina Ricci).  They promise, in the morning, to try harder to be excited for one another, like they really want to make this happen, they just don’t know how.
            The next night, after work, Paul is all ready to proclaim his love and finally give her the engagement ring, right after he tells her that his job is moving him to Chicago .  But he never gets to complete his well-rehearsed presentation.  Before he can produce the ring, she stalks from the table in a huff, flees to her car, races down the road, crying, and….gets in a fatal accident.
            Or is it fatal?  She wakes up and speaks to the always-somber Eliot Deacon, who, while stitching the gash on her forehead, assures her that she’s dead---even shows her the death certificate, officially signed, hours ago, by the county coroner.  She’s not convinced, and at first tries to run away, unsuccessfully (while he whines, “Why do you all have problems accepting your death?”)  Eventually, she seems to settle into the idea that though she’s breathing and talking, she must be dead, because he’s convinced her that he has a special gift to communicate to those who are “in transition” between life and death.  Not surprisingly, she says this feels more like Hell:  she’s neither on earth or in heaven, and she can’t seem to escape, and no one comes to save her. (Insert obvious theological response here.)
            Meanwhile, her devastated boyfriend tries desperately, and unsuccessfully, to see her (he’s not family, and never got along with her mother).  As viewers, we wonder, too, if this macabre funeral director actually has special gifts, or is he really a psycho (and the filmmakers helpfully provide us with homage to the classic film of that title).  Eliot Deacon, it turns out, has a prejudice about people who are technically alive, but, in his estimation, they’ve quit living a long time ago.  So, depressed and uncertain, Anna confesses to him that she was afraid to love, and scared to live, anyway, and death would, after all, end her struggle to find out what she was supposed to do with her life (other than be an unenthusiastic elementary schoolteacher).
            Yes, “After.Life” is  creepy, but not really scary.  It’s also a whole lot of footage of Ms. Ricci nude on the morgue slab, who apparently feels there’s nothing left to hide.  (And yes, people, that gratuitous bit of necrophilia really was over the top.) 
            Though there’s some unfulfilled romance, “After.Life” is not really a love story.  Neither is it a horror film in the traditional sense.  It’s its own quirky self, take it or leave it.  Most of the living will do the latter.
This is Ron Salfen, “At The Movies,” for 93.5 KICK-FM