Comedy Film Review

A Film Review from Beyond the Grave: Life After Beth

September 5, 2014Ben Mk


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Love bites...

Relationships can be stressful. And death is a real bummer. But relationships after death — well, they'll eat you alive. At least that's the basic premise behind Life After Beth, the genre-bending new horror/comedy from writer/director Jeff Baena, which stars Dane DeHaan as a distraught young man trying to come to grips with the untimely death of his girlfriend, played by Aubrey Plaza. However, when the grieving process takes a turn for the bizarre — on account of the dead rising from their graves — he finds himself mourning the loss of something equally precious: his sanity.

   

After suffering a snake bite while out on a solitary hike, 19-year-old Beth (Plaza) bites the big one, leaving behind her father, Maury (John C. Reilly), mother, Geenie (Molly Shannon), and boyfriend, Zach (DeHaan). Unable to find solace at home — with his parents, Noah (Paul Reiser) and Judy (Cheryl Hines), and his older brother, Kyle (Matthew Gray Gubler) — Zach turns to the only other people who might understand his pain — Beth's parents — and ends up developing an awkward kinship with them. They even give him something to remember her by: Beth's rainbow-colored knit scarf; and in turn he dons it wherever he goes, even though it's the dead of Summer.

But when Beth's parents abruptly cease returning his phone calls, Zach begins to suspect that he may have worn out his welcome. Hoping to clear the air, he pays them a visit, only to dredge up more questions when he discovers that — much to his surprise — Beth has somehow made the return trip back to the land of the living.

Almost immediately, Zach blurts out what the audience is already thinking: "She could be a zombie!" Beth's parents, however, beg to differ — after all, their daughter's fuzzy memory of recent events notwithstanding, she's more or less the same old Beth (save for the baseball stitches on her torso and her newly-acquired, monstrous strength) — and they happily convince Zach to go along with their plan to keep her mysterious resurrection hush-hush from the rest of the community. Yet the more time Zach spends with Beth, the more he realizes that his gut feeling may in fact be on-point. Unfortunately, that realization dawns on him a little too late, as their sleepy suburban neighborhood is soon beseiged by hordes of the shambling undead.

Drawing inspiration from such zombie parodies as Shaun of the Dead and Warm Bodies, Baena — who previously co-scripted the existential comedy I Heart Huckabees — revels in the tropes of the genre, while simultaneously making his own offbeat contributions to zombie comedy (zombedy?) mythology. For instance, who would've thought that — on top of craving human flesh — zombies had an instinctive affinity for attic crawlspaces and smooth jazz? Well apparently they do, so God help the poor soul that comes between the undead and their Kenny G.

Character-wise, however, there's not a lot on the menu for moviegoers to sink their teeth into, as we learn practically next to nothing about Zach, Beth or their families, other than the broad strokes. It's not too surprising to see the secondary characters get the short shrift, but the film could have easily benefited from some scenes showing the nature of Zach and Beth's relationship prior to her sudden expiration. As it stands, the only details we're privy to is that the pair were experiencing some "troubles" and were on the verge of breaking up before things hit the fan — a fact that's supposed to help sustain the post-mortem drama but doesn't always succeed.

Still, DeHaan pulls off his role with convincing gusto, channeling the full gamut of emotions — heartache, shock, joy, angst, frustration, you name it — that someone in his unique situation might feel, while Plaza gleefully hams it up as Beth begins her manic descent into full-on zombie mode — which can only be described as a hormonal fit from Hell (if hormones made you punch through glass windows with your bare fists, burn lifeguard towers to the ground or chew through a car's upholstery like it was cotton candy). And while the intersection of their performances does feel tonally uneven at times, at least it's never dull.

The Bottom Line No doubt some moviegoers will have long tired of zombies and zombie send-ups. And for those viewers, there's little that Life After Beth can offer that might change their minds. But for those who still hunger for all things in the key of Z, it's still an enjoyable, offbeat little romp in albeit familiar territory. While it may not reinvent the zombedy, it's not the movie to put the genre six feet under either.  Ben Mk








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