Life After Beth, 2014
Written and directed by Jeff Baena
Starring Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser, Matthew Gray Gubler, Anna Kendrick
A young man’s recently deceased girlfriend mysteriously returns from the dead, but he slowly realizes she is not the way he remembered her.
Just as the zombie genre itself has grown tired and weary with so many being released year on year, so has the zom com subgenre. At times you will get true gems (Stalled, I Survived a Zombie Holocaust) but a lot of the time they’re not worth your while. But as the genre looks like it needs to shut up shop, you get a movie like Life After Beth that really turns the whole landscape on its head. It’s not always funny, but it’s the most interesting take on the zombie genre since Shaun of the Dead.
The movie opens with a funeral for Beth, the girlfriend of Zach and the daughter of the Slocums. While of course they are very sad by her sudden and tragic death, she suddenly turns up at their front door with no memory that she died. What seems great news at first turns sinister as more and more of the dead start to return home, and some of them seem hungry.
As a genre, zombie movies have always thrived on the idea of possibly having to kill a loved one or a friend because they have become a member of the undead. When push comes to shove, could you point a gun at someone you care about and pull the trigger? With Life After Beth, it turns that idea around. Zach is delighted that Beth has returned from the grave as he can finally have that time with her he’d lost and he has a second chance to say the things he wanted to say. This leads to a lot of very sweet moments as this love-stricken teenager gets everything he had hoped and prayed for since Beth passed – which of course is all the more powerful when it starts to go wrong.
Life After Beth is marketed as a comedy horror and in many ways it is, but it never dances around like a clown to make you laugh. There are no set pieces with arrows pointed at them telling its audience when to chuckle. Writer and director Jeff Baena allows and uses his all-star comedy cast to bring the laughs from the characters and their reactions to the situation. John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon are not outright trying to make jokes and neither is the under utilised Paul Reiser, but what they are saying is funny. Parks and Recreation favourite Aubrey Plaza, aside from a few occasions towards the end, is not acting as if she is in a comedy movie. Because of this, Life After Beth is genuinely hilarious as well as being sweet.
And this level of sweetness is carried by the fantastic Dane DeHaan who brings the straight-man role to Life After Beth. While everyone else is in a “comedy” movie, DeHaan is in a heart-felt drama and gives a brilliant performance that will tug at the ol’ heart strings. Its performances like this that should hopefully wash off his disturbingly mundane and average performance in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 from people’s memories. Baena manages to get the balance of comedy and drama just right so that all of the notes Life After Beth hits are struck correctly.
Every now and again, you get a movie like Life After Beth that is such breath of fresh air that you believe there is a chance for the zombie comedy genre to survive against all the odds. In a sea of mundanity, Life After Beth stands head and shoulders above them all and even manages to be more than just an “indie comedy” that its cast might have you believe it is. Life After Beth is funny, sweet and often beautiful.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.