When his girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza) dies after a freak snakebite, the grieving Zach (Dane DeHaan) finds himself getting closer to her parents, the Slocums, bonding in particular with her dad Maury (John C. Reilly), the pair staying up all night smoking dope. But when they start ignoring him and stop answering the door when he visits, Zach becomes suspicious and discovers the Slocums’ dark secret – Beth is alive. Kinda.

A few nights after the funeral, she just showed up at their door (covered in dirt having dug herself out of her own grave) with no memory of her death. Overjoyed to have a second chance with the girl he loves, Zach agrees with her parents’ request not to tell Beth the truth about her death. But when your girlfriend is horny all the time, smells strongly of rot, decaying before your eyes, has violent, homicidal mood swings and is so ravenously hungry she starts to eat your car upholstery and attack passers-by, her undead status becomes hard to ignore and as a full-on zombie apocalypse hits town Zach starts to think maybe he should take the advice of his gun-nut brother Kyle (Mathew Gray Gubler channeling Bill Paxton in Weird Science) and put Beth out of everyone’s misery…

A rom-zom-com that’s maybe a little too cute and timid for its own sake, Life After Beth hardly breaks new ground as it plays the zombie apocalypse for mostly gentle laughs, squandering much of its early, darker promise, going easy on the gore and placing its doomed hipster romance in a suburbia where elderly Jewish grandfathers return from the dead to kvetch about moronic TV shows while zombie postmen continue to make their daily rounds, much like the blue-collar zombies of Romero’s Land Of The Dead, writer/director Jeff Baena (who co-wrote I Heart Huckabees) mistaking offbeat for actual humour.

But there’s a sweetness to the film, its hugely talented cast shining, if a little underused, with John C. Reilly’s hangdog father particularly good while Mathew Gray Gubler steals every scene he’s in as DeHaan’s gun fetishist security guard brother who’s having the time of his life capping zombies and playing hero though the always wonderful Anna Kendrick is wasted as last act rival for Zach’s affections.

As Beth, Plaza (who gives perennial teenager Maggie Grace a run for her money as world’s oldest high-schooler) chews more scenery than flesh eschewing her usual too-cool-for-school, deadpan eye-rolling in favour of breathless enthusiasm and physical comedy as she fluxes from sweet and demure to ravenous and murderous by way of confused and unhinged. It’s a refreshingly bonkers performance, both scary and adorable.

Perhaps the biggest revelation of the film though is just how gifted a light comedian Dane DeHaan is. More familiar as intense, tortured outsiders in movies like Kill Your Darlings, The Place Beyond The Pines and Chronicle, here DeHaan is a befuddled, slightly nebbish, everyman, a hipster Jack Lemmon who’s wandered into a zombie comedy and, unusual as it sounds, I want to see the young actor do some proper rom-coms.

Ultimately, Life After Beth is a one-joke movie but Aubrey Plaza as a ravenous and horny zombie with amnesia is a pretty good joke and while it’s rarely laugh-out-loud hilarious, the film is an amusing and surprisingly poignant 90 minutes.

 

Movie Review: Life After Beth
DeHaan and Plaza shine in this above-average zombie comedy
3.0Overall Score
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