Jeff Baena’s directorial debut if anything can be classed as unique. Zombie comedies, and even romantic zombie comedies have been brushed upon before as the undead factor brings further complications to an angst ridden relationship.
Life After Beth takes these elements of horror, anxiety and love and pushes each a little further in its intended direction. The horror is gorier and spectacularly bloody, the comedy laden with shock and familiarity, and the love when applicable is genuinely touching.
The film begins in the wake of life after Beth for her boyfriend Zach (Dane DeHaan), as he clings to his deceased beau’s scarf and smokes weed with her father, mourning her accidental death but aware that their relationship was on its way out. Skinny and sad, DeHaan channels the brooding musician effectively, doused in black and smoking by the pool with notable anguish.
After investigating Beth’s parents reclusive behaviour, Zach finds that his girl has inexplicably risen from the grave, although has no recollection of dying. It’s a bittersweet opportunity to pour out the things that were never said to a bewildered but pleased girlfriend, and the intensity between the united pair is utterly believable.
Aubrey Plaza is, in turn, brilliant as Beth. With a solid background in playing a disgruntled youth with eyes constantly rolled in the American hit TV series Parks and Recreation, her appeal only strengthens as she morphs from a puzzled resurrection to a full on nightmare. Switching at an exhausting rate between contentment, frustration and terrifying violence she is great fun to watch and a cosmic comedy presence.
Baena’s script smuggles in mini sub-narratives in Zach’s family, with an entertaining turn from Matthew Gray Gubler as the gun proud overly authoritative older brother and admirable additions in Cheryl Hine’s house proud mother and Anna Kendrick’s nervous but obviously adorable neighbour. John C. Reilly is somewhat misused but Molly Shannon’s selfless mother, who cuts off parts of herself to help stem her daughter’s appetite, works well within this weird dynamic.
The problem with weighing in on these sub-genres means that the tone of the film becomes muddled. Occasionally this works wonders; tender moments like Zach’s heartfelt serenade being ripped apart by Beth’s cascading rage blackouts are harshly funny. At other times things get too busy, drawing the tone in too many directions to focus on whatever Baena’s intentions are.
Through the chaos you are able to pinpoint parts of a clever, well balanced sincere-come-silly love film. Aside from one being alive and one dead, the indifferences between Zach and Beth are entirely relatable, just with added cannibalism. Despite working with an occasionally messy script performances are commendable especially from our lead characters, and for a first time feature effort Baena has created a sharp and compelling hybrid of zombie horror and young love.