When movies slip beneath your radar and you end up finding them already on DVD, it’s common for us all to immediately have a feeling that this won’t be a very good movie and when (as is the case with Afterlife) the movie is a fascinating and intriguing film of quite high caliber, it somehow amplifies your enjoyment. You like it for tricking you into lowering your expectations and then rewards you with something new, something dark, something naked.
So Christina Ricci spends half this movie naked. She’s naked laying down, she’s naked standing up, she’s naked from the front, she’s naked from the back. She’s naked in a house, she’s naked with a mouse. Now before we get into red fish, blue fish, is anyone going to finish reading this or have you already left to go buy it? See, the movie IS worth buying, but not JUST for Christina Ricci naked. Hard to believe, right?
Afterlife is a movie about what happens to us when we die. What happens to us for the three days after our death, before we’re buried or cremated. Christina Ricci’s character dies and then both she and her definitely alive boyfriend/fiancé have trouble dealing with this. Liam Neeson is the mortician who makes up the dead for their open casket funeral. While Christina tries to deal with her death, she talks to Neeson who tries to calm her to help her transition from this life to whatever lies beyond. Her boyfriend (Justin Long) also has trouble dealing with this tragedy and so we get this very sad love story, wrapped in a horror movie that finds it’s roots in movies like Phantasm and Psycho.
The beauty of the movie is in it’s possible duality of the Liam Neeson character. He could either be dark and sinister, crazy and frightening, or a lonely soul who fights a righteous fight. You could look at the movie as a story about a mythic hero (the mortician) who bravely helps to ferry the confused lost souls to their final resting place as easily as he can, speaking and communicating with them while no one else can hear their words and eventually find someone else with his gifts and train them to continue his noble, secret and very sad work. You could also completely flip the concept. Neeson is actually preying on victims of car accidents and sneaking them off to fuck with their heads and eventually bury them alive. They would question and struggle and try to escape, but keeping them sedated, he convinces them that they are in fact dead and then bury them alive. Maybe he doesn’t talk to anyone and he’s just a very sick man and the conversations between him and the dead are just in his head. There are any number of ideas that could be at work here. So with room for for interpretation, compelling film making and a very naked Christina Ricci; we have a great movie worthy of some more attention than it seems to be getting.