Cast: Liam Neeson, Christina Ricci, Justin Long,
Director: Agniezska Wojtowicz-Vosloo
Is it time to ponder the career of Liam Neeson?
Perhaps it is, as he enters the theaters for the second time in two weeks. Last week, he posed through the role of Zeus in Clash of the Titans. This week it’s the psychological thriller After.Life.
There was little streak between Schindler’s List and the biopic Michael Collins where Neeson seemed destined for great things. Now, his screen presence is that of a late, bloated Orson Welles or a Charlton Heston hemmed in by defining roles. This is coupled with an unhealthy attraction to small roles in schlock. It still feels like slumming for his Schindler’s co-star Ralph Fiennes to take a role in Titans. Yet nowadays it feels like Neeson’s home.
Still, a smart director can still use his sunless presence to strong effect, as the Dutch debutant Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo does in this unsettling psychological thriller. The result is the first effective Neeson performance that I’ve seen in quite some time.
Neeson plays a solemn mortician who might have a special gift. Is he a psychically endowed loner kindly escorting the recently dead to the afterlife? Or is he a delusional serial killer? A mostly naked Christina Ricci is the prospective corpse who is about to find out. The whole thing plays like a good, long Twilight Zone episode, always on the precipice between irony and dread.
After.Life is a creepy little number that keeps threatening to ruin itself but never quite does. It solves its own mystery and then reverses course. You will likely leave the theater discussing with a friend exactly what was going on. In this it trusts its audience enough to forego the typical Hollywood rule of complete explanation. I also like the way the film looks – different and nightmarish without being outgoingly showy, with generous use of the entire frame. And this is one of the little secrets of horror films today – they’re the only ones willing to take visual chances. It is paired with a spirited performance of a spiritless man.