Actor Liam Neeson seems to be everywhere these days and in almost every film that is made. We've recently seen him in the erotic thriller "Chloe" with rising star Amanda Seyfried and Julianne Moore, as the God Zeus in the box office smash "Clash Of The Titans" and this summer he'll fill the late great George Peppard's shoes as Col. John "Hannibal" Smith in big screen adaptation of the classic '80s TV series, "The A-Team." But now the actor can be seen taking a stab at the psychological thriller genre with the new film "After.Life," co-starring Christina Ricci and Justin Long. In the film, Neeson plays a mortician who may or may not have the gift to speak to the dead while they are in limbo between life and death. The actor, as always, conveys a commanding and grounding performance that weighs the film in an authenticity that only an actor of Nesson's caliber could bring to the screen.
While the premise and the film's twists and surprises may wear thin eventually it is the believable performances by the actors, Neeson and Ricci, especially that hold the film together and make it worth watching. Fans of the horror/thriller genre will be pretty happy with this small, creepy and scary film. With a feel similar to "Rosemary's Baby" crossed with "Flatliners" the film takes you on a journey in one direction only to find that it eventually leads you in the other direction completely. While I want to be careful not to give away the device of the film, it does an excellent job of setting up one believable scenario after another. Giving clues along the way to debunk that what you are seeing is anything but the truth and only to prove you wrong in the end by turning the movie into something completely different that you never expected it to be.
The film begins by introducing us to Anna (Ricci), who after a horrible car accident wakes up in a funeral home to find the local mortician, Eliot Deacon preparing her body for the funeral. Confused by why she can still communicate with Deacon if she is supposedly dead, Deacon explains that he has been cursed with the gift to speak with the dead while they are in limbo between this world and the next. But as the movie continues Anna begins to question whether what Deacon has explained is the truth or part of some sick game he is playing. In the meantime, Anna's grief stricken boyfriend Paul (Justin Long) can't help but feel that something suspicious is going on with Deacon and that maybe Anna is still alive. Paul launches an investigation but as he gets closer to the truth, he ends up looking more and more insane to the local police. Adding to the mayhem is Jack (Chandler Canterbury), a young boy and former student of Anna's who shares the same gift as Deacon and who he eventually takes in as his protégée. As Paul gets closer to the truth about Deacon, he must race against time before it is too late to save Anna and at the same time be careful as his own fate hangs in the balance.
Justin Long gives a very emotional and believable performance as the grief-stricken boyfriend, Paul. It's an interesting performance because on the surface it looks like he is playing the same character he did in Sam Raimi's "Drag Me To Hell" from last year, but actually this character is more 3-dimensional and interesting than the 1-dimensional character he played in Rami's film. While, there are similarities between the two, especially in tone and look, they are two completely different performances and the actor deserves credit for making them so distinct while comparisons between the two were inevitable. Ricci has made some very unique choices of parts to play over the last few years and this role is no different. Ricci has always had a knack for splitting her time between interesting independent films with taboo subject matter like "Black Snake Moan" and equally interesting studio films like the boundary pushing yet polarizing "Speed Racer." She does it once again here by choosing a character that allows the doe-eyed beauty to tap into her dark side as well as to her spiritual nature for this role and what the audience is left with is a moving and compelling performance from the exceptional actress.
While Ricci and Long help ground the film in reality, it is Neeson's turn as the gifted or demented Deacon that makes this film a scary thrill ride and really makes the movie work. You can almost see the glee that the actor takes and the fun that he is having playing this Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde type role. Neeson is clearly one of our finest actors but I feel since last year's thrilling action film "Taken" has really stepped up his work and has been turning out one great film after another and this movie is no exception. The film's twists work, especially if you leave a bit of logic behind and just give into them. Sure, they get a little hokey at points but the cast's fine performances along with Neeson's believable one that make it work. The relationship between Neeson's Deacon and Canterbury's Jack is extra scary and adds an extra level of creepy-ness to the film. First time writer/director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo does an adequate job of keeping all the pieces in motion but it is really the experience of her exceptional cast that keeps the film glued together. In the end, After.Life is a satisfying psychological thriller with an interesting twist that will keep you guessing until the final frame and features strong performances from its exceptional cast.