How would you react to being told you were dead?
A man works in a funeral parlor, diligently preparing the body for burial. The lighting is stark and contrasts with the gentle way that the mortician is working, calmly talking to the copse. The film soon moves the setting to the funeral of a piano teacher where Anna, played by Christina Ricci (Sleepy Hollow, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) meets the mortician Eliot, played by Liam Neeson (Taken, A Walk Among the Tombstones). Later that evening Anna fights with her boyfriend, Paul, played by Justin Long (Jeepers Creepers, Drag me to Hell) and drives off into the night.
Anna’s upset demeanor leads her to being involved in an accident, later waking up to find herself in the presence of Eliot as he begins preparing her body for burial and informing Anna that the accident she was involved in was fatal. Struggling to accept her own death Anna begins coming to terms with her new reality as Eliot explains that he has a gift, a gift that enables him to talk to the dead.
As Eliot’s preparations continue he continually injects Anna with a drug he claims is to prevent the onset of rigor mortis and keep the muscles relaxed. It seems that Eliot has found his calling in life as he assists people in accepting death and helping them transition from this life to the next.
While on the surface Eliot seems to have very noble intentions; however, things cease becoming so simple and suspicion begins to creep into Anna’s mind. Her boyfriend wishes to see her body but is refused access. Anna becomes convinced that she is, in fact, alive and becomes determined to escape from Eliot. Reaching out to Paul proves ineffective and Anna is recaptured by Eliot, who explains that her feelings are a normal reaction to letting go of life and accepting that she has died. A further twist develops when a child who knew Anna comes to the home, claiming to have seen her. Eliot explains that the child and himself share this gift and is offered the chance to learn how to harness this “gift” before being satisfied and leaving.
The finale leads to the burial of Anna and the audience still isn’t sure if Anna really is dead or Eliot is a deranged serial killer who has the perfect cover story. As Paul races to uncover the truth for himself the viewer is thrust into the twisting finale and being left with questions.
The film is almost entirely consisting of the performances of both Neeson and Ricci as they brilliantly carry the plot forward through the dual possibilities. Clues to both potential outcomes are present throughout and the viewer is kept guessing up to and after the shocking outcome of the story. Looking back it seems we must all question what we believe and what we can see especially our acceptance to believe that it is something else when we are told to. The open-ended nature of the story presents that Anna is simply the next in a long line of victims to Eliot, or indeed that when we transition from this life the world around us is how we imagine. With certain influences from An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge and Jacob’s Ladder, pertaining the moment of crossing from life to death, viewers are left questioning the impact of our imagination on the reality around us. What exists and what is a product of our minds. Did a dream that felt so real actually happen? The calm demeanor of Eliot combined with the initial acceptance of Anna sets the story up with the potential for a supernatural tale until the plot moves the viewer into the stark choice of reality over spiritual fantasy.