HuffPost Review: After.Life

06/06/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

After.Life is one of those creepy films that sets up a certain reality and then simply builds on it, accruing suspense and chills as it goes.

Alternatively, you could look at this feature debut by director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo as contrived horror: an easily unraveled premise which, in retrospect, doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

I guess it depends on what you're in the mood for. Inevitably, however, the latter overtakes the former because the script by Wojtowicz-Vosloo and Paul Vosloo can't help painting itself into a corner.

If you can swing with the vision being built by Wojtowicz-Vosloo (typing that name actually makes me appreciate the pretentious moniker McG), then After.Life is a modest and effective little tale, one that is unafraid to take its time and wring the maximum flavor out of each carefully crafted moment.

The film stars Christina Ricci (who spends even more time naked than she did in the ludicrous Black Snake Moan), as Anna, a schoolteacher on a bad day. Something's obviously wrong (hint: unexplained nosebleed, then weirdly flickery lights in a school hallway), but she keeps moving forward through her schedule, right up to the dinner where her boyfriend (Justin Long) expects to pop the question.

Instead, Anna starts an argument before dinner, then stomps out of the restaurant and drives away in the pouring rain. Aggressive trucks surround her on the highway, she loses control of her car and, the next thing she knows, she's waking up on a slab in the mortuary.

Her inevitable "Where am I?" is met by a soothing "You're dead" from the uber-calm mortician, Eliot Deacon (Liam Neeson). He's cleaning her up for the funeral - and he happens to possess the ability to communicate with souls who are trapped between here and there, wherever there happens to be.

That's where Anna is, he tells her. She thinks she's alive but she has no pulse or heartbeat.

Yet, after a while, she discovers that she can, in fact, move. More to the point, she can walk around; she can even break up the joint, which she does, out of frustration at the locked door that keeps her imprisoned.

So is she alive - and the potential victim of being buried alive? Or is this all a post-mortem dream of some sort? Why does Eliot keep injecting her with fluids that cause her to pass out? And, when her boyfriend and her mother come to look at the body, why is it no one can see her eyelids fluttering?

Wojtowicz-Vosloo plays it out to the end, but the tension gradually leaks out of the film. Before it does, you have time to admire the deceptively benign demeanor that Neeson affects and to wonder what's happened to Ricci's career - and what Long, a talented comic actor, is doing to his, playing almost an identical role in this film to the one he played in Drag Me to Hell.

As I said, either you'll go with After.Life's conceit or you won't. Even if you do, it inevitably runs out of tricks and you're left with more questions about its plausibility than you'll probably be comfortable with.