Life After Beth
|UK Release Date||1st October 2014|
|Reviewed||24th September 2014|
Horror comedies are a hard thing to get right. Too much of either element and you risk alienating a good part of your audience. Horror comedies involving zombies are particularly tricky because the best zombie horror comedy has already been made. And you just aren’t going to get anywhere near Edgar Wright on that one. Which inevitably means you’re going to need more than a novelty title to get you through….
Which brings us to Jeff Baena’s directorial debut, Life After Beth. Having penned I Heart Huckabees, which I absolutely hated, Baena (who also writes here) has a mountain to climb. We pick up with some very ominous shots of the titular Beth (Aubrey Plaza) wandering alone in the woods, dark strings playing in the background. We then cut to Zach Orfram (Dane DeHaan) trying his monotone best to deal with her funeral. Although not on the best of terms at the time of her expiration, Zach is struggling to cope with the loss and nothing his over cheery family can do will pick him up.
Still on very good terms with Beth’s family, Zach takes solace in late night pot fuelled chess games with Maury Slocum, Beth’s father. When Maury suddenly stops taking Zach’s calls and refusing to answer the door to him, Zach is suspicious. Catching a glimpse of somebody that looks very much like Beth through a window, Zach attempts to force his way into the Slocum’s, only to be restrained by his slightly unhinged private security officer brother Kyle. He eventually succeeds though, only to discover the reason for Maury’s reluctance to see him being that inexplicably, Beth has returned to life. Zach is over the moon that his love has returned and that he now has the chance to do and say all the things he didn’t whilst she was alive. The first time. Nagging doubts about the situation persist though and upon checking out her grave, Zach starts to think that all is not as wonderful as he first thinks…
The easy standout in Life After Beth is Beth herself. Aubrey Plaza is excellent in the role, brilliantly managing to veer between sweetly loving towards Zach, being outright sexually avaricious and ultimately wanting to eat anyone who gets in her way. Plaza has just the right amount of menacing sex appeal to pull off the extreme changes in Beth’s mood and she’s more than capable of convincing us that Beth is still in there, somewhere beneath the tire-stained dress.
The remainder of the cast all bring a decent amount of life to the movie. DeHaan probably has the toughest time of it in a role that mostly just requires him to be astonished by what’s going on around him. John C. Reilly’s Maury and Molly Shannon’s Geenie are good value as the couple desperate to believe that their daughter has been resurrected (though the religious angle is largely sidelined). The Orfmans (Cheryl Hines and Paul Reiser) get less of a look in though they are entertaining as Judy constantly attempts to set the grieving Zach up with his childhood sweetheart and Matthew Gray Gubler has fun with his lunatic gun-toting security officer.
Despite the sparky cast though, I’m not convinced that the movie as a whole adds up to any more than the sum of its parts. The main issue I have with it is that ironically for a film about a relationship, it fails to commit. It’s not quite horrific enough to be a proper horror, though it doesn’t skimp on the comedy gore but by the same token, it’s not funny enough to be an outright comedy. There are some decent laughs to be found here but I can’t help but inevitably compare it to Shaun of the Dead. Although he comes close at times, Baena can’t quite hit that sweet spot where ordinary life is juxtaposed with extraordinary circumstances. DeHaan does his best but the script never quite wrings all the laughs out of the spiralling situation. Likewise, the main conceit of being given a second chance with the person you love, remains unexplored for the most part. Zach’s attempts always seem half hearted and beyond one catastrophic trip to the beach, never really get beyond whispered promises.
But I don’t want to end on a negative note for Life After Beth as at its zombie heart, it actually comes across as quite a sweet movie. At 89 minutes, it certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome and in Plaza it has a genuinely funny lead. It also has moments of decent gallows humour - a car accident followed by a very awkward conversation between a boy, his childhood sweetheart and his recently deceased girlfriend - is particularly funny. On the whole then, entertaining enough but you can’t help but think that more could have been done with the concept and the talent on show.
Check out the trailer here.