Would you want Liam Neeson to prepare your body for your funeral? In Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo 2009 film After.Life, Liam Neeson (Schindler's List, The Gray) plays Elliot Deacon, a funeral director that can communicate with the dead. He spends his time trying to convince his new patrons to let go of their old lives and embrace the peace they now have. Elliot seems to have met his match with Anna, played by Christina Ricci (The Addams Family, Yellowjackets). School teacher Anna Taylor recently died after getting into a car accident. She is very reluctant to let go of her life and accept her new fate.
Anna wakes up on Elliot's preparation table, and he shares the news. She doesn't believe it and wants to leave. Anna wants to know why Elliot can understand her if she's dead. Elliot explains that he has a gift, but sometimes it’s a curse since he has to go through the same process with each newly departed person. He has to get people to accept their new life after death before their funeral. Anna has a difficult time during the few days she is in Elliot's care; she refuses to let go of her old life.
Anna begs Elliot to let her return to the land of the living, but he asks her what she has to live for and what she would change if she weren't dead. Since Anna is unable to answer these questions, Elliot keeps her locked in the preparation room. Anna is convinced she is alive and seems to breathe and even sleep and dream while she is waiting for her funeral to happen. Anna goes so far as to trash Elliot's office and even steals his keys so she can “escape.”
When Elliot realizes his keys are gone, he makes his way back to the funeral home. After unlocking the front door, Anna sees him pull into the driveway; she then goes upstairs and finds a phone to call her boyfriend Paul, played by Justin Long (Jeepers Creepers, Barbarian). He has difficulty hearing her, which is when Anna finally accepts what Elliot has been telling her. He explains that her spirit is too strong, and it's causing Paul to suffer. She needs to move on so that Paul can move on as well.
Paul is having a tough time accepting Anna’s death as well. He goes to the funeral home twice and threatens Elliot wanting to see Anna’s body - which Elliot denies both times. Paul even has hallucinations of her in his apartment. When Paul goes to clean out Annas's school desk, one of her students (Jack) comes up to Paul and tells him Anna is still alive. This student saw her the night before in the funeral home. This further sends Paul into a downward spiral, and he even smacks the child that tells him about seeing Anna.
As the audience follows Jack more, he may have the same gift Elliot has. Jack keeps returning to the funeral home, and even Elliot suspects Jack's gift. It seems as though Elliot will take Jack under his wing since Jack's mother/primary caregiver neglects Jack. Jack seems excited about this idea, and we even see him bury one of the chicks from their classroom that appears to be alive.
During the film, we see that Elliot is giving Anna injections of something called hydronium bromide - which he claims slows rigor mortis. However, we learn at the police station that hydronium bromide can give the appearance of death; it slows breathing and weakens the muscles, so the person can't move much or at all, depending on the dose. This all leads us to our main question, is Anna actually dead? Or is Elliot some twisted psychopath who abducts people he deems to have stopped living?
Overall this movie had me focused and guessing for the entire 100-minute run time. Ricci is incredibly haunting as a corpse or possible hostage. Long plays the grieving, pained boyfriend so well that it hurts to see him fighting for Anna no matter her outcome. I also have to commend Neeson for his role as the mysterious funeral home director. He has somewhat of a calming presence but appears to keep a darker part of himself not far from the surface.
I love films that keep me guessing the whole way through! The story does a great job of getting your mind thinking about the audience's mortality and how they would like to be cared for in the end. The idea of having someone there to guide you through those feelings would be helpful during that transition. Especially in times of unexpected deaths like Annas. One second she's driving, and then the next, she is “waking up” on an embalming table. Give this a watch if you want a thrilling mystery that will leave you wanting to know more about death, life, and the people who experience it all firsthand.
7.5 Screams out of 10