Director: Jeff Baena
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser, Anna Kendrick
Written by: Jeff Baena
Running Time: 89 mins
Release date: 1st October 2014
Most films tend to run out of steam way before the end. Life After Beth is a curiosity as it runs out of steam at the beginning and manages to find its feet 40 minutes before the end. By that point, however, it’s too late and what ends completely quirky and surreal, it’s hard to fully enjoy after the slow trudge at the start.
Zack is in mourning. His girl friend, Beth, died after being bitten by a snake while out on a hike. Grief-stricken, he finds himself getting closer to Beth’s parents, sharing games of chess and their love for the deceased girl. Then suddenly, they don’t reply to his calls and refuse to answer the door. Curious as to what has happened, he soon discovers that Beth is, in fact, alive. Something is not right with her as her parents don’t want her to leave the house, she soon starts to decay. Maybe she hasn’t resurrected, as her parents have told him.
I’m not giving anything away by saying that this is a zombie rom-com (or zom-rom-com as they have become known). What I am going to say is that it’s a pity the first half of the film isn’t as good as the final half because this could have been a comedy of the year. Instead, we have to sit through 50 minutes of too-cool-for-school, indie flick that drags its feet and lacks any laughs whatsoever. It possibly doesn’t help that we know the fate of Beth before we enter the cinema.
Writer and director Jeff Baena gives us a sideways look at grief and how people handle it, which would have been fine, if the tone of the rest of the film was the same throughout. It comes across as if Baena suddenly decided that the film needed to go in another direction and turns it into a comedy. When this happens, it is funny and it has so many decent ideas that you wish he had decided this at the start.
The comedy is sometimes broad, sometimes totally surreal, sometimes just plain funny, taking what we know about the zombie legend and adding some new rules. The dead have a craving for smooth jazz (very funny) and they are coming out the grave and talking about the price of real estate (also funny). By the end, there’s a hilarious twist on the romantic walk and all these ideas gel but it a little too late.
The cast throw themselves fully into the project. Dane DeHaan is perfectly cool as Zack, looking more like David Bowie’s Thin White Duke and is a solid straight guy. John C. Reilly and the underrated Molly Shannon are also good as Beth’s parents. The film does hinge on Beth and Aubrey Plaza is a spirited and funny zombie. She has proved her comic talents in Parks and Recreations, giving a girl full of attitude with ease. Here she has to deliver a mix of sweet loveliness with a craving for flesh and she does it with plenty of aplomb. Definitely look out for her as she does have a very bright future.
If you are looking for The Walking Dead level of guts and gore, then you will be disappointed and if you are really looking for a decent zom-rom-com, then Shaun Of The Dead and the underrated Warm Bodies should be searched out for. Unless you have a snooze through the first 50 minutes and wake up for the final part. 4 stars for the last 40 minutes but I can’t stretch to more than 3 for the whole project and that is only just.