Twelve Things about After.Life
12. Does it seem as if I'm recommending this movie? Well, I'm really not. There are much better ways to spend an hour and a half, even if you like the sort of movie After.Life is. My primary purpose in writing this post is to find others who have already seen this, so that we can discuss all the twists and turns in the combox.
Perhaps everyone who has seen After.Life feels the same way. When a trainee of mine brought it up, it was because he hoped I was already familiar with it and could tell him what I thought the answer to the mystery was. Despite his overall lukewarm review, I decided to watch it anyway, because the poster all but screamed "Snow White" to me.
11. There's something about the Snow White role that makes actresses who have played her once, play her again. Maybe this is true of all faerie tale archetypes, but I've only noticed the Snow Whites: Christina Ricci in Casper (Don't believe me? Read the Twelve Things!) and this movie . . . and Kristen Stewart in the Twilight Saga (I've got a Team Charlie tag!) and Snow White and the Huntsman. If you can think of other examples, please let me know!
10. I'll admit that the premise of this story is fascinating. A young woman who has been in a car accident regains consciousness in a funeral parlour, but the mortician who interacts with her continues to prepare her body, and now begins to prepare her mind, for death. And there are two explanations that are equally plausible . . .
The first possibility is that school teacher Anna Taylor really is dead and that mortician Elliot Deacon (What? Not quite a priest?) has the supernatural ability to talk to the dead before they finally cross over. And it seems plausible because she has no pulse and is as cold as a slab, among other evidence.
The second possibility is that he is a serial killer who likes to convince his victims that they have died before he finally kills them. This also seems plausible because he keeps giving her injections of some mysterious substance and turning down the thermostat . . . among other evidence.
Now do you see why my trainee was so eager to know what I thought?
9. Someone who makes a living tending to the dead would likely have some unusual thoughts about life--and Deacon doesn't disappoint. As Anna continues to insist that he is mistaken and she is still alive, he snaps at her that the problem with people is that they think that breathing, eating, and pooping are signs of life, when many who do all these things regularly have no real life left in them. And Anna can't really argue: before her car accident, she exhibited symptoms of clinical depression and did things to sabotage her own happiness. So why does she suddenly want to be alive rather than dead?
If Possibility #1 is true, then Deacon is merely sharing philosophy born from experience. Maybe many of the corpses whom he met before Anna also clutched at life, only to admit that they didn't have much to grasp at anyway. But if Possibility #2 is true, then the philosophy came first, guiding Deacon's actions later. A more chilling version of events.
8. Even the most messed up Snow White still has a prince. After Anna's boyfriend Paul starts to suspect that she may still be alive, he tries everything to get into the funeral parlour and see her again. And although he may be right (Possibility #2), he also sounds completely crazy.
Can you imagine trying to convince the police that your dead girlfriend (whose cold, grey body one of them has seen and touched) is actually still alive and being held hostage by a funeral director who is planning to murder her through live burial? If you're clearly still in shock over her death, and the funeral director has been a steady pillar of the community for years, the police are probably not going to take you seriously. But if you were right, your girlfriend would slip closer and closer to death, with you powerless to stop it. I wouldn't ever want to be in Paul's place.
7. Yet Paul's problem is less the craziness of being a lone believer than the powerlessness of simply being alone. How does he not have someone who will help him? Look, I get that friends saying that they will bury a body with you in the middle of the night is just hyperbole . . . but surely true friends will break into a funeral parlour with you to save the love of your life. (Right? . . . Right???)
Well, Paul does have one good friend--no less than the chief of police! But this amounts to nothing since the friend, given our two choices, would immediately choose Possibility #1. Which we can't really blame him for: despite its supernatural elements, it's the less crazy one!
6. But Anna and Paul really do suffer a poverty of community. Anna has no relatives besides an awful mother (which takes care of one more Snow White trope) and Paul's family might as well all be dead for all the help they extend to him after he learns about Anna's accident. If the other people who end up at the funeral parlour have similar anaemic connections, no wonder it is so easy for the Deacon of Possibility #2 to convince them that all life had drained out of them long before they died.
5. Which reminds me of the best line in the entire movie: "You're a corpse, Anna. Your opinion doesn't count anymore." I don't think I was supposed to have found it so funny, though. =P
4. By now, you must have put yourself in Anna's shoes and decided that you wouldn't take anyone else's word that you were dead. Not when you can still speak, think, and move around. But have you also put yourself in Paul's shoes? Would you take the community mortician's word that a loved one were dead if you, not being family, weren't allowed to see the body--even after others had seen her? How much evidence would you need to accept that what other people are saying is closer to reality than your own lone hunch?
And now that you've done that, put yourself in Deacon's shoes. If dead bodies have been talking to you since your childhood, what would it take for you to believe that your burden is not a supernatural gift but a full-blown psychosis?
3. After.Life features solid acting from all three leads and most of the supporting cast, but it's not enough to distract us from some odd plot points. I know that characters making dumb decisions is an honoured convention of Horror movies, but it's much harder to take when they don't even make the wrong choices, but rather don't bother to choose at all.
2. As a Snow White variant, however, After.Life is just great. It manages to include all the essential elements in a clever new arrangement, making me wonder, as I did with Casper, how conscious the screenwriters were of what they were doing. Everyone seems to know when they're retelling Cinderella, but there's something sneaky about Snow White.
1. Finally, After.Life really should have been a direct-to-DVD movie. This isn't to say that it's too poorly made for the big screen (though it does lack a certain polish), but that the medium is the message and this message isn't complete without the DVD extras. An odd way to do storytelling these days, but while it isn't a huge cliche, I won't complain.
Image Sources: a) After.Life poster, b) After.Life screencap, c) Elliot Deacon, d) Paul Coleman