Since Shaun of the Dead not only took the cinematic world by storm but invented the term Zom-Rom-Com it seems everyone and their undead mother is making zombie comedies.
From action Zom-Com’s like Zombieland to road trip Zom-Com’s like Deadheads to WW2 Zom-Com’s like Dead Snow to cockney Zom-Com’s like Cockneys vs Zombies it seems you just put any word in front of ‘of the Dead’ and you have yourself a movie.
The problem is many of these movies unlike the ones mentioned above simply aren’t any good, with many like the shambling moronic zombies they feature not even containing the simplest spark of originality or intelligence.
It was with some reservation you can understand that I approached Life After Beth (which premiered at this year’s FrightFest) worrying as I was that it would be a rehash of all that had gone before. And not in a good way.
Thank zombie Jesus however, writer and director Jeff Baena has created an amazingly creative hilariously funny comedy which features a touching romantic relationship and themes of love and loss at its center. All of which are sensitively and subtly handled while still providing a bloody barrel load of limbs and laughs.
Opening at the funeral of Beth (Aubrey Plaza form Scott Pilgrim vs The World) who died while hiking after being bitten by a snake her bereaved boyfriend Zach (Chronicle’s Dane DeHaan) is morbid and depressed finding it hard to continue on after her passing.
Seeking solace with Beth’s parents Maury and Geenie (played by the amazing John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon) he feels he is finally finding peace however when he shows up to their house one day and thinks he sees Beth through the window things take a very surreal turn.
It transpires Beth is back from the dead and completely unaware that she died and her parents want it to stay that way no matter how much Zach protests. As the couple hang out and rekindle the relationship they once had, Beth starts acting strangely and Zach worries if his girlfriend is more interested in his heart or his brains and which she will eat first.
Part Mumblecore comedy and part hilarious reinterpretation of Les Revenants, what makes Life After Beth are the excellent characters and the inventive streak running through the film that elevates it far above other Zom-Rom-Com’s.
From Beth’s obsession with lofts to the fact that smooth jazz seems to pacify her, the film is full of great moments and interesting ideas giving it much more longevity than many others that have attempted to take on the genre.
Aside from John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon there is a veritable humor buffet of great actors including Paul Reiser, Cheryl Hines, Anna Kendrick and Matthew Gray Gubler as Zach’s annoying older brother. Key though is the relationship between Zach and Beth and Aubrey Plaza and Dane DeHaan play it perfectly crafting a love story that is at times as moving as it is comical.
DeHaan places Zach firmly in reality and it his difficulty processing what has happened and his fear that his lover may be a flesh eating zombie which forms much of the best scenes in the film.
There is an underlying idea that in some ways it is Zach’s preconceptions of Beth as a blood thirsty undead monster that in fact transform her into one and in turn cause the chaos and calamity that ensues as the film progresses onwards.
At first Plaza is the antithesis of her Parks and Recreation character as Beth full of smiles and giggles obsessing over a test she was supposed to take the day after she died. Cleverly though she moves from this to an unpredictable ball of aggression and anger reminiscent of Patty Mullen brilliant turn in Frankenhooker, although interestingly we feel more sorry for Beth the more dangerous she becomes as her humanity fades away.
Life After Beth is a brilliant movie worthy of sitting alongside the few great entries into the Zom-Rom-Com genre. It proves that love never dies, it just gets back up and tries to kill you.