For the most part, video stores are dead, save for a handful around the world (read Kate Hagen’s excellent and extensive piece for an idea). Luckily, I work at Best Video, one of the last remaining vestiges to the golden days of renting, where streaming meant perusing shelves in hope of finding the last copy of whatever your parents wouldn’t let you catch in theaters. Each and every day I stock the same old shelves so those out there looking to romanticize renting can do so, often finding myself absently surfing the horror section; a 1,000 film wall that hides some of the genres greatest (and worst) contributions.
So I decided to take on the task, a journey if you will, of combing through every single title within the horror genre at work, A to Z. This is that journey, and as the saying goes, a journey of a thousand films begins with a single scream…
Oh, and follow #AtoZhorror on Instagram and Twitter @reelbrew for every terrifying pit-stop! Enjoy!
A: Afterlife (2009), directed by Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo
Life is the Symptom. Death is the Cure.
The afterlife is a mysterious thing. There have been many accounts by people who have had near-death experiences, who witness glimpses of the afterlife only to come back to tell about it. Some describe it as immensely beautiful, a field of flowers, or an ascent towards a magnificent light. Others, such as a World War II soldier George Ritchie’s account of the hellish battleground that awaited him, or Matthew Botsford’s description of a black, sludge like nothingness paint a drastically different picture. Either way, all accounts described sound infinitely more exciting than Polish director’s Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo’s After.Life, a horror thriller that induces a medical coma through a near-death encounter with boredom.
Opening with an awkwardly stiff sexually experience between couple Paul and Lisa (Justin Long and Christina Ricci), After.Life works quickly at painting its over-exposed interiors with overt symbolism; Paul’s water stained silhouette outside a shower, a school corridor that goes dim one light at a time, Lisa’s impulsive need to dye her hair red while on her way to a funeral. It’s the sort of glaring cliches that feel right at home within a Hallmark Movie, fed to the masses who might not be hip to the ripe symbolism within the genre. Shortly after an argument at a posh restaurant – where Paul smugly suggests that her new hair color doesn’t quite fit her – Lisa is tragically involved in a car accident where she wakes up at the local morgue run by Eliot Deacon (Liam Neeson). Convinced she isn’t dead, Lisa desperately tries to contact Paul, who senses that maybe she never died that fateful night.
For most of After.Life‘s run-time (it clocks in at a plodding 104 minutes), Christina Ricci remains trapped within the morgue of the funeral home, either propped up on an autopsy table or shambling around the room looking for clues that may lead her back to the outside world. Sometime’s she’s naked, sometimes she’s wearing the red slip worn the night she died. Often she’s accompanied by Liam Neeson, who seems only available for filming an hour or so a day. Other times she’s alone. In between, Justin Long mournfully approaches Lisa’s mother (Celia Weston), a cop (Josh Charles) and Jack (Chandler Canterbury), a young boy and student of Lisa’s who has a less than defined connection with the dead.
Which describes every relationship between the characters of After.Life, all who feel as disconnected with each other as Lisa does with the real world. Both Lisa and Paul desperately need and feel otherworldly drawn to each other, which is more of a mystery than whether or not Eliot is a soft spoken mortician or a nefarious Scotsman with rubber gloves. Jack, a boy who probably wouldn’t see dead people if they bopped him on the nose, randomly appears within scenes, and whose own mother – propped up watching TV in his living room – may or may not be dead. It’s another piece to the puzzle that neither excites, thrills or chills, only offering vague and insipid morality lessons about life, death and everything in between.
As Paul desperately searches for answers while Lisa inches closer to her own funeral, Wojtowicz-Vosloo’s debut ditches any effort to muster up horror, or any real response that might illicit a reaction other than boredom. Even the chemistry between its two leads feels dead on arrival, never managing a discernible pulse or allowing itself to be seen within the over-exposed aesthetic of its flat interiors. Instead, After.Life buries itself under mounds of discourse on what it means to be happy, while slowly peeling back layers to Eliot’s motives, which remain as ambiguous as life after death.
Add After.Life to your collection!