Life After Beth (2014) [REVIEW] [SUNDANCE ’14]

Ya see, zombies are known to exhibit traits of being alive despite being considered dead, resulting to seemingly have a “life after death”. The name “Beth” rhymes with the word “death”, so the funny joke is that Life After Beth is about a zombie named Beth. GUYS, DO YOU GET THE JOKE?! IF YOU DON’T GET THE JOKE NOW THEN THERE’S NO HOPE FOR YOU. I went into this movie nervously because I don’t think we really need another rom-zom-com. It really is the easiest horror subgenre to make the subject of a comedy, isn’t it? Although knowing that Aubrey Plaza and John C. Reilly were in it definitely made the film more promising, and the two were definitely quite funny, and Life After Beth did do something kind of unique for the zombie genre.

It’s been a week since Beth Slocum (Aubrey Plaza) has passed away from a snake bite while hiking and her boyfriend Zach (Dane DeHaan) is having a hard time coping. He finds comfort in spending time with Beth’s parents, but even Maury (John C. Reilly) and Geenie (Molly Shannon) can put up with Zach’s depression for so long. After ignoring his calls, Zach eventually shows up at the Slocum residence and finds not just Maury and Geenie but also their daughter Beth up and moving. Turns out, Beth isn’t as dead as they thought, but has no recollection of her death. Beth’s parents are just so happy to see their daughter that they don’t want to tell her what happened and Zach is so glad to have his girlfriend back that they all take advantage of the situation and treat Beth the way they wish they had while she was alive. Sadly, Beth IS still dead, and in addition to her body starting to deteriorate, so are different parts of her brain as she switches from one wild emotion to the next. Beth is only the first in a series of unexplainable events while Zach has to learn  thing or two about saying goodbye, moving on, and when you need to let go of the past.

Surprising to no one, the cast works really well together. I’d argue that Reilly even gets to deliver some of his best lines that I’ve heard him say in years, and seeing Plaza take center stage as the manic Beth was an interesting shift from what we normally see on Parks and Recreation. Between his roles in Chronicle, The Place Beyond the Pines, and the looks of the upcoming The Amazing Spider-Man 2, seeing DeHaan involved didn’t do much for me but he played the whiny melancholy of a lovesick teen quite well. Not to mention the cast that also includes people like Paul Reiser, Cheryl Hines, and Anna Kendrick, so there’s no denying that there are a good amount of funny bits, even if the plot seems to be well-worn territory. There are also some tender moments between Maury and Zach when discussing people dying and remembering them as they were as a whole than just some negative moments that might have been shared that really endear the audience to both characters.

Okay, so it’s a good comedy with some better moments of emotion coming through, but how does it hold up as a zombie movie? There’s never really an explanation given for why the dead come back to life, which I’m totally fine with, and the fact that the retain most of their personality from their living selves was done just for comedic purposes so that doesn’t really tie into most zombie mythology. They have a handful of other quirks which I won’t get into as to avoid spoiler territory, but the movie definitely doesn’t feel like a “traditional” zombie movie. That being said, the film does focus primarily on one element familiar to all zombie movies, which is the realization that you might need to kill some of the people most important to you in order to survive. Most zombie films have these events happen in the first act, the movie moves on to full-on invasion, and third act deals with resolving the apocalypse. It’s not until towards the very end of the film that the zombie invasion is dealt with in any sort of larger scale, and it’s not until then that it dawned on my the Life After Beth did make for a pretty solid zombie movie. As I mentioned, the grieving process in most zombie films happens more quickly as to move on to the carnage, so seeing Zach and Beth’s parents so desperate to keep their daughter around, even if it’s in a comedic way, makes the story all that more human. Fans of zombies, romance, jokes, John C. Reilly, and smooth jazz should definitely check out Life After Beth when it eventually hits theaters.

Wolfman Moon Scale

three quarters moon

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