Dir: Jeff Baena
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Paul Reiser, Cheryl Hines, Matthew Gray Gubler, and Anna Kendrick
By Monte Yazzie (www,thecodafilms.com)
There is never a lack of social commentary or awareness in the horror genre, but it seems rather prominent in zombie films. Going back to Romero’s films, zombies may not say much coherently but that doesn’t mean they aren’t trying to say something. “Life After Beth”, a romantic zombie comedy from director Jeff Baena, avoids delving too deep into sociopolitical sentiments but instead attempts to showcases the complications and awkwardness of love and relationships.
Beth (Aubrey Plaza) is dead. Having died in a hiking accident after getting bit by a snake, her boyfriend Zach (Dane DeHaan) is mourning and struggling with the guilt of the shaky ground their relationship was left on. Zach visits Beth’s parents (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon), playing chess with her dad and organizing belongings into boxes with her mom. Zach is coping until Beth’s parents begin to act strange, not answering their door or communicating with him. Frustrated and wanting answers Zach spies into their home and witnesses something unbelievable, Beth alive and walking around in the house.
Aubrey Plaza has proven capable in small roles like a supporting spot in “Parks and Recreation” and in leading roles like “Safety Not Guaranteed”. Whether the expected deadpan sarcasm she is known for or a surprisingly heartfelt dramatic turn, Plaza has displayed potential range. She shows these qualities quite well in “Life After Beth”. After returning from death, Beth is oblivious to her demise and confused about her past. All she is sure of is her relationship with Zach and an unexplained test that she has to prepare for. Baena, who also wrote the script, touches on some interesting relationship ideas. Zach is offered the fortunate position of amending his regrets with Beth, but just as relationships change so has death changed Beth. She isn't the same, and the narrative builds this up comically with uncomfortable private moments that find the highly affectionate couple struggling with intimacy, like a funny moment where Zach has difficulty kissing Beth because of her unpleasant breath. But there are also moments of tension and fury involving Beth, who is confused emotionally and increasingly agitated at the people trying to control her.
Unfortunately the interesting themes of love and relationship are clouded by forced comedy. In one scene involving a funny and unexpected cameo, the timing feels unneeded at that particular moment in the film. This continues to happen during moments that seem to hold the most meaningful intent for the characters. While a few of these comedic breaks keep the tone from becoming too serious, it mostly functions in undermining the potential narrative insights. As the film progresses, the good ideas become more muddled and the film loses grasp on the direction it wants to go and the statement it wants to make.
“Life After Beth” can be quite humorous in parts, displaying a charming touch of comedy amidst some inventive genre touches. DeHaan and Plaza shine in the leading roles, with good support from the assisting cast, however the film struggles with finding a direction to go and balance between when it should be insightful and when it should be funny.
2.50 out of 5.00