It didn’t rock the critics, but it is distinctly creepy. After.Life came out in 2009 and quickly fell from sight. It’s an interesting movie nevertheless. Any film that features an undertaker, for one thing, gets edgy. The story of a young teacher who never really felt loved and who is killed in a car crash sounds tragic enough. Then she finds herself conscious in the preparation room where the funeral director, Eliot Deacon, talks to her, assuring her that he can speak with the dead. As the movie progresses we begin to wonder if Anna, the teacher, really is dead or if she’s being killed by Deacon for having given up on life. His name is suspiciously religious, fittingly for a film that deals with such a topic as the afterlife. Overall, however, it’s pretty bleak. One of Anna’s students also sees her after she dies and Deacon befriends him, offering to teach him his trade.
Although the critics didn’t like it, it is spooky on many levels. Not the least of which is the question never satisfactorily answered of how to know when you’re really dead. The movie presents the soul as a fact, and even dead bodies can move around when the situation merits it. Death is one of those areas that religion generally enters. Some secularists maintain their lack of religious thought even in this situation, but many people find religion helpful at this ultimate transition and the soul seems entirely natural then. It’s unclear in the movie whether Deacon is good or bad. He’s certainly obsequious, accommodating the wishes of families even when unreasonable. With the dead, however, he takes a firmer stance, having to convince them that they’re no longer living. The movie’s a bit confusing in the case of Anna—we’re never really sure if she’s dead or not.
Even with commercial interruptions (it’s free to watch that way) I found myself getting caught up in the story. Deacon kept asking what it is the living really want. He’s shown throughout doing the work singlehandedly, from picking up the bodies, to embalming, to even digging the grave. His loneliness is ameliorated by his ability to speak to the dead, each of whom he photographs and puts on his bedroom wall. Religion may be behind the soul, but no obvious religious talk pervades the film. I have to wonder if this might not be the reason it fails to frighten its many critics. Horror that uses religion effectively often becomes successful. Those that avoid religion like, well, death, often fail to convince even secular critics.