Ricci stars as Anna Taylor, a young school teacher whose relationship with her boyfriend Paul Coleman (Long) has grown strained. After fighting with him at dinner over a misunderstanding, she drives off and gets in a car accident. She wakes up in the funeral home of Elliot Deacon (Neeson) who says that she's dead. Apparently he has the gift (or curse, as he later complains) of being able to see and speak with the dead. However, she begins to suspect he may be lying, as does her boyfriend Paul, but time is running out as the funeral is in two days, with Deacon intent on completing his work...
As you might have surmised from all the tagged examples below, huge spoilers ahead!
This film provides examples of the following tropes:
- Cassandra Truth: No one believes Paul when he claims Anna is really still alive.
- Cruel Twist Ending: Deacon ensures that Anna gets buried alive with Paul thinking she was already dead. Then Deacon tells a drunk Paul to go see for himself that she's really dead. He goes and digs her up just in time to save her from suffocating and everything seems like it will end well. Then it turns out it was all a hallucination and he ends up on Deacon's morgue table with Deacon telling him he really died in a car crash on the way to the cemetery before inserting a trocar deep into his torso. So Anna dies in a grave, Paul is killed, and Deacon gets away with everything.
- The Ending Changes Everything: Liam Neeson plays a mortician named Elliot who claims to have the ability to speak to the dead. Throughout the movie, he talks to the main character (who is dead) in hopes of getting her to move on with her life. It turns out in the end that he was lying the whole time and that the main character was always alive. However, there had been foreshadowing for both options on whether he was lying or not, with lots of those moments pointing towards the former. And one large hint that he has been doing it for a long time.
- Foreshadowing: There were clues from the beginning that Anna wasn't actually dead. A white van follows her prior to the accident (the same type which we later see Deacon drive), her injuries did not appear sufficient to be fatal (though granted, that isn't definitive-people can be killed without much visible damage), injecting a corpse is pointless as the blood wouldn't circulate it, the drug he injects her with is said to cause the appearance of death, her breath fogged the mirror up (which Deacon wipes away the first time-why bother if she's actually dead?), she can't leave the room (why does Deacon race back to stop her when he finds she's taken his keys, if she's really just a ghost?) Plus the way Deacon adjusts the thermostat for his morgue (why, if they're popsicles already?).
- Karma Houdini: Deacon manages to evade having his true activities revealed even when Paul is right outside the door from where Anna is, alive; having convinced her she's dead and has to "move on", she doesn't reveal herself. He then later goads Paul into speeding off to check whether she's really dead or not, and then kills him in the funeral home, getting rid of one of the only two people who could have revealed him. Jack, the other person who knows, is recruited by Deacon, who fooled him into thinking they both can speak with the dead, and calmly watches as Deacon kills Paul, convinced that he's just a spirit. Deacon gets away clean. He's also done this many times before, judging by his array of corpse photos (it was said by the director that those with their eyes open were alive, like Anna)...
- I See Dead People: Deacon appears to possess this ability. However, it turns out he's a Serial Killer who drugs people to make them seem dead, burying them alive, because he feels they've wasted their lives, making them unworthy of life. He also (in the case of Anna at least) then convinces them of the fact, claiming this power as his explanation for why he can speak with them when they're supposedly dead.
- Loners Are Freaks: Deacon is a classic example, though does it seem slightly odd that he has no employees at all to help him with his successful funeral business and his large mansion. He appears to do everything himself and he pays great attention to detail, e.g. in one scene we find him delicately trimming a hedge with a pair of scissors.
- Misanthrope Supreme: Deacon is actually a deranged Serial Killer who seems to hate living people for not appreciating their lives and he buries them alive like some sort of punishment.
- Ms. Fanservice: Christina Ricci spends a good portion of the film naked.
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Liam Neeson, as usual when he plays Americans.
- Psychopomp: Liam Neeson plays one. At least, that's what he claims to be.
- Reality Ensues: The aforementioned Cruel Twist Ending happens because Paul had been drinking right before he got behind the wheel. Drunk drivers and deadlines do not mix together very well, and Paul crashes his car on the way to the cemetery.
- Self-Made Orphan: Deacon confesses that the first person who he "buried" was his mother.
- The Sociopath: Deacon is revealed to be this. He loves to bury people alive for the sole reason he thinks they're not worthy of living. Before doing that he seems like he likes torturing them by using either his medical instruments or Break Them by Talking. In the end he decides to simply kill Paul for knowing too much, but not before taunting him about his failure.
- Truth in Television: "Hydronium Bromide" is fictional, but such effects are possible with drugs.
- Wham Shot: Anna asks to see her reflection one last time before she crosses into utter death. Deacon shows her a mirror...and Anna sees it start to condense from her breath.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: It's never revealed how Deacon chooses his victims, besides Paul, though it seems to be set up in advance, since he appears to have followed Anna in the van before her accident.