A movie as annoying as its oddly punctuated title, After.Life is a misguided and empty-headed attempt at psychological horror that succeeds only at talking the viewer to death. The directorial debut of Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, the movie centers on Anna (Christina Ricci), a schoolteacher who storms off after an argument with her boyfriend Paul (Justin Long), has a car accident and wakes up in the mortuary of the kindly, vaguely creepy funeral-home operator Eliot (Liam Neeson).
Eliot informs Anna - in the most soothing, gentle tone - that she was killed in the wreck and shows her the death certificate as proof. Anna's pallor is a bit on the gray side, and there's a nasty gash on her forehead that suggests a fatal injury. But Anna insists she's alive, especially since she can still walk and talk and think, and demands that Eliot release her from the locked room in which he makes corpses look their best before their funeral.
The central premise of After.Life is admittedly compelling: Is Eliot telling the truth when he tells Anna he has the gift of talking to dead people who have not yet accepted their fate? Or is he a lunatic serial killer passing himself off as a kindly mortician? But after about a half hour of back and forth between these talented actors, you start to realize After.Life isn't going anywhere beyond the set-up.
Eliot constantly lectures Anna ("You all say you're scared of death, but the truth is you're scared of life!'') while she tries in vain to escape her makeshift prison. A subplot involving the growing suspicion by the grief-stricken Paul that Anna may still be alive thankfully gets us out of the funeral home, but Long is miscast in the role (he's a talented comedian, but suffering just isn't his thing), and the gory visions he occasionally has, such as one in which Anna tears her heart out in the shower, come off as feeble attempts to shock the movie into life.
No luck, though. After.Life benefits greatly from the compulsively watchable Ricci, an actress who deserves a lot more starring roles than she gets. It is also exceptionally well shot. Wojtowicz-Vosloo certainly knows how to use a camera. Now she just needs to learn how to entertain an audience - or at least come up with a film that doesn't try so hard to be profound yet has absolutely nothing to say about the way the living deal with death.
After.Life (* out of ****) opens Friday, March 9 at Aventura and Sunset Place in Miami-Dade and Sawgrass and Paradise Park in Broward.