Interview: After.Life’s Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo

ON

Director of the Ricci, Neeson psychological thriller

Just when an editorial was coming to mind lamenting the absence of female directors in horror, in comes Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, an eager, talkative NYU grad whose short film earned kudos and propelled her into the director’s seat on After.Life, a confidently made psychological thriller starring Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson, Justin Long and Josh Charles. Here, Ricci is faced with relationship lethargy and after a spat with her fella (Long) she winds up in a car wreck and wakes up on the slab in Eliot (Neeson) Deacon’s funeral home. Is she dead? It seems so, however, Eliot speaks and interacts with her. So what’s the deal? We turn to the young director of the film to learn more.

Shock Till You Drop: Let’s briefly talk about the journey from your short film to your feature…

Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo: Pate was very dark and twisted. It got a lot of attention when I was still at NYU. That was the first film I ever made. It got into and premiered at Sundance and it won a bunch of awards. That opened a lot of doors for me and I got an agent while I was still at school. I was approached with a lot of stuff but the material didn’t resonate with me. I was turning it down, but I wasn’t picky – for me to do the best work and I need to be passionate about it. After.Life was born and it took me three years to write the screenplay. I took a harder and more difficult road, but it was much more satisfying in terms of how much I learned.

Shock: You wrote the script with two others?

Vosloo: It was a team of three. Myself, Paul Vosloo and a friend of mine, Jakub Korolczuk. I was fascinated with death early on. My father died when I was ten so this was a personal story. I was both curious and obsessed with death. What happens to your body, what happens to your soul? Is there a transitional period where you could look at your life? I did tons of research. So I went to every single morgue in New York City and made friends with tons of funeral directors to the point my friends were worried I was hanging out with funeral directors. [laughs] I remember going to the L.A. County Morgue which is one-of-a-kind. They had a huge capacity and it’s so different than what you see in the movies. Huge rooms of rows and rows of bodies. It’s like hell on earth. So I loved the research and the collaboration of writing in a team.

Shock: Do you think that research and the level intimacy with death that you narrowed in on during the research will informed how you handled death in After.Life, or, in future films perhaps?

Vosloo: For me, I think my style is very particular. It’s definitely heightened reality. Everything has to start in reality first. Going to these funeral homes, being in a morgue, seeing the every day detail of those places, I process it and give it a hyper-real or surreal feel. When you watch the movie, they came from real experiences but I give it a little spin. That’s my style. That’s something I’ll always have, that’s how I see reality. After. Life is about the primal fear of death and we’re all terrified of it, not to mention the fear of being buried alive.

Shock: I’m guessing the younger character in the film, Jack, is a reflection of yourself and your curiosity with death then?

Vosloo: He was there from the beginning in the scripting process. It is me as a little girl standing over my father’s grave trying to figure out why the hole is so deep and where does it go? But children, at the same time, they all have a fascination and it manifests itself in a different way. At the same time, Jack is young Eliot (Liam Neeson) in the making. They see the world in the same way.

Shock: How did you and Liam come to find Eliot and how he’d be portrayed?

Vosloo: He read the script and responded to it. We were on the same page in terms of never tipping off the balance of too far or too little. In the beginning, my intention was to not do a paint by number ending. I believe the nature of death and life is never clear cut. The theme is – can you be physically alive and mentally dead? What does it mean to be alive? I was looking to create a mysterious character and I knew Liam was going to bring that. When he’s kind and gentle, it makes him even more scary. It would have been a cliché to make him just a bad guy. I wanted this mystery and does Eliot present this gift? There are clues and I wanted people to have their own interpretation. I love when people push the envelope. You play with the rules of the genre and you spin them. In one scene I wanted you to absolutely believe Christina’s dead, but in the next scene you begin to wonder. It’s a constant guessing game. From the comments I’ve been getting from people who enjoyed the movie, during the Q&A a couple had an argument – the boyfriend thought Christina was alive, the girlfriend thought she was dead. That’s what I wanted.

Shock: With the release of this coming – where’s the future taking you?

Vosloo: After the premiere at AFI, there are exciting things I’m taking meetings on after the movie is fully released. I’m excited about some of the projects I was offered. At the same time, I want to surprise myself. I want to stay in the genre. I think horror and thrillers give me an opportunity as a filmmaker. I like reinvent it, I love to work in it. There’s nothing better than a scary psychological movie. The next one will definitely be something I direct with someone else’s script. At the same time, I have some ideas that I’m toying with. One is definitely twisted and scary. I just have to find time to write it.


Source: Ryan Rotten, Managing Editor