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After.Life -- Film Review

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A stylish piece of horror-movie hokum, "After.Life" inexplicably somehow managed to attract the talents of Liam Neeson as a creepy undertaker and -- in her second recent film in which she spends most of the running time wearing little to no clothing (not that one is complaining) -- Christina Ricci as his latest victim.

Although director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, making her feature debut, has given the proceedings an undeniable visual polish and the film is far more subtle than most similar genre exercises, it seems destined for quick theatrical playoff before the starring names and ample nudity will make it a late-night cable TV staple.

Anna (Ricci) is a high-strung schoolteacher who, after a silly spat with her boyfriend, Paul (Justin Long), gets into a car accident and winds up dead on a table in undertaker Eliot Deacon's (Neeson) well-appointed funeral home. Except that she isn't dead, at least as evidenced by the fact that she's quite capable of carrying on an animated conversation with the man preparing her for burial.

Clearly annoyed by her resistance, the stony-faced Eliot rails against her and the rest of his charges, who he insultingly calls "you people," for their reluctance to accept the fact that they are in fact deceased.

The film cleverly (or frustratingly, depending on one's point of view) keeps the audience guessing as to whether Anna really is dead or just one of Deacon's hapless victims, photographs of whom he keeps in a loving display on his bedroom wall. When one of Anna's young students spots her standing in front of a window, he alerts the grieving Paul, who, though disbelieving at first, proceeds to investigate, with the inevitable harrowing results.

The filmmaker skillfully creates an atmosphere of quiet dread, aided mightily by Neeson's subtle and unnerving performance as the creepy undertaker. But the seriousness of purpose is undermined by the gratuitous exploitation of the comely Ricci, who looks smashing wearing a slinky red slip or, more often than not, nothing at all. One hates to say it, but after this and "Black Snake Moan," it might be time for the talented actress to keep her clothes on.

Opens: Friday, April 9 (Anchor Bay Films)
Production: Plum Pictures, Constellation Entertainment
Cast: Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson, Justin Long, Josh Charles, Chandler Canterbury, Celia Weston, Shuler Hensley
Director: Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo
Screenwriters: Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, Paul Vosloo, Jakub Korolczuk
Producer: William O. Perkins III
Director of photography: Anastas N. Michos
Production designer: Ford Wheeler
Editor: Niven Howie
Music: Paul Haslinger
Costume designer: Luca Mosca
Rated R, 103 minutes