Burying the Ex is the result of a successful crowdfunding campaign, and it’s not hard to see why it would seem to a good investment. It’s a comedy horror from Joe Dante, who has directed titles that have redefined that subgenre (both Gremlins, The Howling, The ‘Burbs…). It’s also one of a number of zom-rom-com’s, which have produced titles from Braindead to My Boyfriend’s Back over the years. Finally, it’s full of classic horror references, with the whole thing being an attempt to weaponise horror fun nostalgia. Sadly though, the end result falls pretty flat, with the fact that this film’s thunder has been stolen by the similarly premised Life After Beth being the least of its problems.
Horror geek Max (Anton Yelchin) is coming to the hard realisation that his relationship with Evelyn (Ashley Greene) is just not working out, so with a heavy heart he’s decided to break up with her. Before he can give the news though, Evelyn dies in an accident, so his true feelings go unsaid. Afterwards though he moves on, striking up a new relationship with Olivia (Alexandra Daddario), who works at the malt shop. Things go OK, apart from one little issue; while Max and Evelyn were still dating, he once made the promise that they’d be together forever, near an odd little idol. Evelyn is taking that promise very literally….
It should be said that this film is very sincere in its love for horror fans and the genre. From Max working in an all-year-Halloween store, to the numerous movies clips are used from (Night of the Living Dead, The Gore Gore Girls, The Satanic Rites of Dracula…) to the (inevitable for a Joe Dante movie) Dick Miller cameo. Even with some of the character names this theme is continued, with Evelyn being a reference to an obscure 1971 Italian movie, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave. Now this should really make the film an ideal treat for horror fans, but it doesn’t quite work out like that. The net effect is more like someone trying a little too hard to be your friend, like they’re just waiting for you to invite them to your birthday party or something.
The genre nods really can’t help cover this film’s biggest issue; the incredibly shallow script. The story (by Alan Trezza, expanded from a short he made) goes exactly as you’d expect it would, there really aren’t any interesting twists, it has really nothing meaningful to say. What’s more, none of the characters are anything other than cardboard cut out stock archetypes. Anton Yelchin’s Max is an ineffectual nerd that just stumbles indecisively through the plot, Oliver Cooper plays the standard slobbish best friend role, and Alexandra Daddario’s Olivia fits the much overused “Manic Pixie Dreamgirl” format beat for beat. Evelyn herself plays like an absolute checklist of domineering girlfriend stereotypes; health food fanatic, not getting “guy stuff” (in this case horror movies), decorating without permission… and all this before becoming a zombie. It’s one of those cases where the couple is so different one wonders why the hell they ever got together in the first place. As for the horror element, that really doesn’t work. At first it almost plays like the only difference being dead has made to her is removing what few soft edges she had before, but in the end, it reverts to cliché in order to wrap up the story “easily”.
It’s a shame to be saying this because there’s a lot of real pros working on the film. It’s noticeably low budget, but Dante’s enough of a pro to make it constantly visually interesting. All the cast give fine performances, and it’s clear they’re having fun making it. But with all the talent in the world, sometimes that just can’t get elevate a poor storyline. Burying the Ex will not being spoke of in the same sentence as say Shaun of the Dead… apart from maybe comparing the dos and don’ts of making a romzomcom. The film is trying way too hard with various shallow gifts to make you like it, while ultimately having a pretty poor, backwards view of women and relationships… it’s the movie equivalent of a full-on, fedora wearing “nice guy”!