Life After Beth (2014)
Starring Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Dane DeHaan, Paul Reiser, and Anna Kendrick
Directed by Jeff Baena
Directed by Jeff Baena
Zach (DeHaan) is in mourning. Following a snake bite while on a morning hike in an LA park, his girlfriend, Beth (Plaza), has just died. With his own family, including mother, father and trigger-happy cop brother, all seemingly ignorant to the impact of his grief and the hole that this loss has left in his life, Zach turns to Beth’s parents instead for solace. Here he forms a stronger bond with them – especially her father, Maury (Reilly), with whom he plays chess, smokes weed and shares stories of the past with a living Beth.
When Maury suddenly begins ignoring Zach’s attempts to get in contact, Zach heads to the house and catches a glimpse of Beth, alive, inside. Forcing his way in, Zach learns that Beth is indeed alive and can’t remember anything about her death. But this is no miraculous resurrection – Beth has quite literally clawed her way out of her grave and staggered homeward. Resuming their relationship, Zach slowly comes to learn that Beth’s return carries its own affliction – she’s a zombie, and as she continues to rot, her hunger for human flesh grows in parallel with the degradation of her cognitive faculties.
But that’s not all – Beth isn’t the only one coming back, and slowly but surely multiple dead folk start turning up around town and heading down the same path towards full-on zombie. A mailman delivers a ton of incorrect mail before driving his van across yards and through mailboxes, a fry cook is reduced to grunting and chucking baskets of fries at his waitress and even Zach’s long-dead grandfather shows up to berate his family in one particularly hilarious scene.
Yes, this is a comedy. And a very funny one, at that. Lead Plaza is the star of the show – she’s consistently delightful. Whether it’s in seemingly normal girlfriend mode; as a controlling, jealous bitch or a hiking-obsessed zombie, she gives it her all and is a pleasure to watch throughout. On a similar comedic note is the ever dependable John C. Reilly, who does his thing here with note-perfect aplomb. DeHaan, on the other hand, seems to struggle slightly with the comedy, aiming for a more dramatic connection to Zach’s grief, but the script undermines his efforts at almost every available turn – and therein is Life After Beth’s biggest failing.
Director Baena seems too dedicated to delivering a chuckle-raising, lighthearted romp, to such a degree that the emotional heart of the film is, frankly, entirely missing. There’s enough evidence in the story to show that Zach and Beth’s relationship wasn’t as perfect as his grief-stricken memory was telling him, and this is brought to the fore by her raging jealousy when he begins kindling a flame with old friend Erica (Anna Kendrick, used only sparingly here), but when the time comes to see Beth off for the good of all, it’s up to a distraught Zach to take her away and do the deed. And the entire thing is played for laughs while DeHann tries – so hard – to lend the correct weight to it. Unfortunately Baena’s plans leave no room for that.
There’s a distinct lack of zombie mayhem in Life After Beth, too, with the majority taking place off screen. The idea of a slow, insidious takeover of a town by the returned gradually devolving to flesh-eaters is a good one, and offers a good backdrop for a story of people too concerned with their own problems to notice everything falling apart around them, but there is very little sense of the actual scale of the problem. One moment everything is getting along almost normally, and the next there are burning cars and bodies in the streets – yet a strange absence of the walking dead that are supposedly causing this chaos. It’s too abrupt and seems to be forcefully shying away from delivering the actual zombie goods – or making them a genuine threat – in favour of mass-market appeal. Speaking of abrupt, it’s simply impossible to forgive the film’s decision to kill a major character entirely off-screen and write the event off with a single line of dialogue; a mind-bogglingly bad decision.
Still, this may just be the nitpicking of a zombie devotee, and otherwise, Life After Beth is a quirky and fun time. There are plenty of laughs to be had as Zach and Beth’s parents attempt to wrangle their new zombie through various situations while avoiding getting on her bad side – for obvious reasons – and the dialogue for the most part is smart and snappy. The aforementioned grandfather scene is almost reason alone to see it, and Aubrey Plaza is just fantastic; yet, disappointment sits equally alongside amusement by the time it’s all said and done.
7 out of 5