After.Life (US - BD)
Gabe is often convinced he's dead when he wakes up after a rough night...
Following an angry misunderstanding with her boyfriend Paul (Justin Long), listless school teacher Anna (Christina Ricci) awakens in a morgue. Funeral director Eliot Deacon (Liam Neeson) informs her that she has died in a horrific car accident, and that her consciousness is merely part of a transitional period between life and death. Anna remains trapped in the funeral home for days where she watches Eliot go about his business, and is forced to deal with her deepest fears. Meanwhile, grief-stricken and confused, Paul tries to prove Anna is still alive.
Your mother always tells you not to judge a book by its cover, but how about judging a straight to video horror film by its stars? I know it’s unfair to continuously compare Anchor Bay’s release to those of the major studios, but there is something predictably disappointing about bankable stars appearing in films you’ve never heard of. After.Life is a classy-minder horror flick, occasionally to its detriment, but it’s also generic enough to disappear in a sea of other STV horror gunk. Co-writer/director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo makes a strong feature film debut in the visual sense. After.Life is a very tactilely affecting, and sterile film, and is defined by harsh whites, deep blacks, and a few theme colours, specifically a sickly mint green and the same shade of blood red. The red theme is a little obvious, I suppose, but is consistently interesting to look at, and is an apt visual metaphor. This impeccable look is a bit of an albatross around the production’s neck after about 30 minutes, when fans of the filthier side of post-mortem horror (like myself) start craving a bit more of the grotesque. All the class eventually turns to something representing pedantic slurry.
The plot of the film is instigated by a very frustrating misunderstanding, and the human side of the plot continues along similarly painful lines right through to the end. Likability isn’t a necessary character trait, of course, but there is a sense that Wojtowicz-Vosloo and her co-writers don’t really earn their emotional turmoil, rather they just create a world populated by mean-spirited, self-centered creeps. Occasionally a sense of genuine tragedy creeps into the picture, but it usually has something to do with the general truth of mortality, rather than anything particularly specific to the characters. Unfortunately the supernatural elements don’t really do much to overshadow the real life consequences. It feels like the story has something important to say about life and death, but it’s never clear beyond the film’s aggressive visual elements, and a repetitive collection of familiar discussions (‘Prove to me I’m really dead! (looks in mirror) ‘Why do I look like a corpse?’). There is, of course, a twist that changes the nature of everything we just watched, but even this lacks much in the way of catharsis or shock.
The funeral director’s part of the story is, for the most part, the plot’s exceptional element. Eliot is too close to a creepy grown up version of the Sixth Sense kid mixed with a popular horror character I can’t name without ruining the twist to earn any originality points, but his experience as a character is intriguing, so intriguing I wish it was more his story. Somewhere there’s a solid dark comedy about a funeral director who has to deal with the dead refusing to believe they’re dead…oh wait, that movie was called Cemetery Man. Never mind. Neeson doesn’t push himself too much, but wears a solid weight on his shoulders throughout the entire film. Ricci, sadly, doesn’t have much to do besides be generally confused and nude (a pretty big plus in the film’s favour for some viewers, I’m sure), but despite a lack of diversity manages bring honesty to her performance. Poor Justin Long probably shouldn’t have taken the role so soon after Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell (the two films were likely filmed around the same time). The two characters are incredibly similar, to the point one could fan-fiction their way into assuming the two films took place in a shared universe.
After.Life may be the best looking Blu-ray I’ve seen out of Anchor Bay studios yet. This 1080p transfer is extremely clean and clear, including only the most minimal grain, and the tiniest hint of edge enhancement. Cleanliness is important to director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo’s antiseptic tone, and the image is rarely less than breathtakingly lifelike. Detail levels are just as incredible, and the overall soft and smooth look actually allows the viewer to revel deeper in the fine textures of the actor’s faces. As I said in the feature review section, Wojtowicz-Vosloo’s use of colour is extreme in its contrast. The look isn’t pushed to Schindler’s List or Sin City extremes in terms of overall monochromatic schemes versus rich highlights, but the overall make-up is mostly defined by harsh whites, deep blacks and bright reds. The palette features a virtual rainbow of hues, but these, along with the sickly green undercoat, are the image’s most routinely expressive elements. One would suspect that such intense reds would create blocking or other digital artefacts (and they likely do on the DVD version of the film), but these are just as clean and pure as the cavernous blacks (though on occasion they create minor haloing effects). The green elements display the most grain, but blend quite well into the light flesh tones, and feature the same overall hue consistency.
After.Life comes fitted with Anchor Bay’s usual PCM 5.1 audio. The sound doesn’t quite match the arresting video quality, but fits the film’s tone. The bulk of the audio is soft, subtle, and celebrates the contrasts in volume. Dialogue and music are the most important aural elements, and are perfectly clear without any obvious compression or distortion issues. Paul Haslinger score rolls stealthily throughout the entire film, and gives the LFE a decent workout through the steady throb of electric bass, and light percussion. Many of the scores loudest music are abstract beyond melody, and give the stereo channels a sense of weight. Surround elements aren’t very consistent, but are effective when utilized. The best examples are Anna and Jack’s ‘death dreams’ (I call them for lack of a better term), which feature some impressive roaming, whispering voices, and spikes of high volume scare noise. Other examples include an early thunder storm coupled with loud source music and car noise, a subtle echo in the morgue itself, and a handful of visceral jump scare sound.
Extras begin with co-writer/director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo’s solo audio commentary track. Wojtowicz-Vosloo splits her focus between basic technical factoids, including locations and cast, and thematic intent, including her personal feelings on life and death, and the use of colours. Her discussion occasionally tips into the obvious, and her tone matches the antiseptic tone of the film, but she has obviously prepared for the track (again, slightly to the detriment of the track’s tone), and leaves very little blank space. Wojtowicz-Vosloo scores big points for being honest, even somewhat self critical, and for assuming we’ve seen the film when it comes to spoilers (I hate it when commentators act as if the surprises are still surprises while watching the commentary track). ‘Delving into the After.Life: The Art of Making a Thriller’ (8:00, HD) features an interview with Wojtowicz-Vosloo, who discusses her inspiration for the film, clues to the big twist, and the general reception, all set to choice footage from the film. The extras are completed with a trailer, and trailers for other Anchor Bay releases.
After.Life is so close to a good movie, but it’s gorgeous visuals aren’t quite supported by a compelling enough story, and the majority of the characters are skin-crawlingly mean spirited. Perhaps another few passes at the editing hub, and a willingness to embrace a little exploitation tone might’ve helped, but I suppose other readers wouldn’t agree with the Joe D’Amato fan in me. The Blu-ray looks really great, featuring fine details, solid colours, and an overall clarity I don’t think I’ve ever seen out of an Anchor Bay HD release. The DTS-HD soundtrack is fine and dandy as well, and extras feature a solid commentary track from the film’s co-writer/director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 3rd August 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: PCM 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH and Spanish
Extras: Director Commentary, Delving into the After.Life: The Art of Making a Thriller
Easter Egg: No
Director: Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo
Cast: Christiana Ricci, Liam Neeson, Justin Long
Genre: Drama and Horror
Length: 103 minutes
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