Jeff Baena, writer of “I Heart Huckabees”, sits on the director’s chair for the very first time here, for this, a romantic zombie comedy titled “Life after Beth”.
I first heard of this film a few months ago and have been following it since, excited for its release this autumn. I was excited to see it was being shown at Frightfest 2014 and, after having the chance to sit down and watch it, I was entertained, though a little disappointed with what I got.
We meet Zach (Dale DeHaan – The Amazing Spiderman 2) who has just lost his girlfriend to a snakebite accident. He is in mourning, and having just sat through her funeral and played a game of chess with her father, Maury (John C. Reilly), he is ready to go home and cry about his lost love. During his mourning he finds that his deceased girlfriend, Beth’s, parents, Maury and Geenie (Molly Shannon) have stopped calling him, so he heads to their house, only to discover that Beth, his formerly dead soul mate, was now alive and kicking. Beth (Aubrey Plaza – Parks & Recreation) doesn’t know that she died, she doesn’t remember anything, but her mood is erratic, her hunger is growing, and her anger is causing her to growl at her boyfriend. Zach is at a cross-roads. He is happy to see Beth back, but he is concerned that she might become a flesh eating ghoul and bite his face off. The two of them spend time together and Zach realises that Beth is only going to get worse as she begins to show signs of being a member of the living dead community. We then find that it isn’t just Beth that has come back to life, it is something happening all over town, as dead postmen, grandparents and old home-owners begin to pop up, covered in dirt and wanting to sit in the attic.
DeHaan, as Zach, is a hoot in this film. His contorted discomfort and conflicted emotions about Beth’s return from the grave brings about some very funny moments, and his scenes with Beth, as they attempt to live a normal love life, are great. Reilly, as Maury, offers a very funny and entertaining performance too, and is in the film much more than I expected he would be. He is protective, a bit weird and not exactly coping well with the idea of his zombie daughter leaving the house. Plaza, as Beth herself, is a fun character. Naïve one moment, sexually aggressive the next, and clawing and growling like an escaped mutated bear-monkey the next, her performance is full of life, even though she’s full of death.
I enjoyed the humour in the film, and I thought it was well written and well performed. There’s nothing wrong with it, per-se, but I did feel like there were lots of missed opportunity too. There were scenes that could have gone haywire and become truly hilarious, but didn’t. There were routes that the story could have taken in order to become much sillier and entertaining, but didn’t, and I couldn’t help but feel like the reasons were ignored as to why this whole thing was happening. It felt like we were being told “you’re not being given answers, deal with it”, and I felt a bit jipped in that respect.
I am a zombie nut, I love the living dead, and I love when filmmakers attempt to do something different with it, and this is different in many ways. It doesn’t have the romance of Warm Bodies, it doesn’t have the clever dialogue of Shaun of the Dead, and it doesn’t have the gore of Dead Snow, but it is its own little dead creature, a strange mesh of indie comedy and zombie flick. It’s fun, but it feels a bit confused as to what it wants to be. A decent debut from Baena, but I did feel disappointed, it could have been better, and it could have caused belly-laughs instead of throaty-giggles. Worth seeing, yes. Ground-breaking, no.