Liam Neeson goes from releasing krakens in Clash of the Titans to wearing medical Crocs in this semisuccessful horror flick, which casts the towering performer as Eliot Deacon, a soft-spoken mortician with the ability to talk to the recently deceased. It’s never entirely confirmed if his very particular set of skills is genuine or the elaborate cover of a serial killer; suffice it to say that when schoolteacher Anna Taylor (a necrolicious Christina Ricci) crosses his slab, there’s a lot of impassioned hemming and hawing about whether she’s dead or alive.
Deacon cleverly talks around the facts of her case with the kind of mock-philosophical misdirection (“Only I can see you as you really are.”) befitting the Saw films’ Jigsaw. Yet this bogeyman is different: Neeson clearly relishes the role, but he never plays to the cheap seats by going whole-hog psychotic. The character’s motivations remain tantalizingly opaque from first frame to last.
Would that writer-director Wojtowicz-Vosloo brought the same sense of tightrope-traversing rigor (minus mortis) to the rest of the film. Ricci is certainly game, baring body and soul in her scenes with Neeson. But two subplots—one involving Anna’s bereaved boyfriend, Paul (Justin Long), the other one of her death-obsessed students—act as damaging narrative deadweight. This is one case where there’s more life in the morgue than out.