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Life After Beth
Other // R // August 15, 2014
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]
Zombie films used to be just that - zombie films. Back when George A. Romero created pictures such as Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, the thought of the dead returning to life was terrifying. Zombies have become ridiculously popular over the years, which has sparked a variety of sub-genres for horror fans to feast their eyes upon. One of these happens to be the zombie comedy, also known as a "zomedy." Motion pictures such as Shaun of the Dead have been massive hits among mainstream moviegoers, as well as horror fans. This has inspired many independent filmmakers to take a stab at it. Writer/director Jeff Baena is taking a chance with it in his directorial debut with Life After Beth.
Young Zach Orfman (Dane DeHaan) is absolutely devastated after his girlfriend, Beth Slocum (Aubrey Plaza), unexpectedly dies while on a hike. He begins to spend more time with her parents, Maury (John C. Reilly) and Geenie (Molly Shannon), until they instantly shut Zach out of their lives. He realizes that Beth has risen from the dead, and her parents are willing to keep her hidden at all costs. Zach sees this as a second chance and decides to say and do everything that he wishes he had done while she was still alive.
Life After Beth wastes no time, as it sets itself up rather quickly. Soon after witnessing Zach within Beth's family setting, we experience his life within his own home. Each member of his family is more extreme than the last, as this group of over-the-top characters never seem to ever become very sympathetic with Zach's loss. Since his personal life feels so disconnected, it makes it almost impossible to become invested in any of these characters. Zach and Beth are obviously the most interesting characters that the film has to offer, but Erica Wexler is the only supporting role to actually improve the story taking place between the two leads. Instead, others such as Beth's father, Maury, drag the feature down to low levels. Life After Beth offers a couple strong messages, but it's occasionally interrupted by unnecessary intrusions from those such as Maury.
Since this is a comedy, it doesn't have nearly as much of the violence that one would expect from a zombie flick. While certain events make this a more complex situation for Zach, this is actually a romance comedy at heart. It touches upon some intriguing concepts that truly resonate well. If one lost their significant other and had the chance to see them again, but at a cost, would they be able to let go? Writer/director Jeff Baena takes advantage of this through the inner-conflict found within Zach. However, the more time that he spends with her, the more that seems to be "off" about her. Beth isn't acting like herself, and she's only getting worse. This ultimately leads to the majority of the film's comedic material, as it mocks young teenage love by injecting it with the typical zombie clichés. Life After Beth creates shock value out of the extreme amount of angst that would come out of a troubled relationship between two teenagers. While you won't find yourself laughing hysterically, there are plenty of chuckles to be had. Fortunately, Baena's material comes across as being more genuine than one would expect from a zomedy. This makes for a more intriguing tone that carries through a large portion of the feature's duration.
Writer/director Jeff Baena doesn't keep the film on such a small scale through the entire picture, as Beth's revival ultimately affects every individual in town. As the feature moves into the third act, it tries to utilize some Shaun of the Dead-esque material. This brings all of the supporting characters that were seen previously back into the spotlight. It becomes a lot less about Zach and Beth, and more about how their actions have affected those around them. If the film moved in a different direction, it could have made for a more impressive climax. Not only does the size of the scale feel inappropriate, but the laughs dissipate into nothingness. While the plot comes to terms with the picture's messages, it doesn't feel like the personal journey that Zach needs. The inner-conflict is hardly utilized, but at least there's enough here to make us care for the lead.
This filmmaker's directorial debut managed to score numerous recognizable faces that will surely boost the picture's potential to find its audience. Dane DeHaan plays Zach Orfman. He fits the role and has screen presence, although his comedic delivery misses the mark rather often. This makes for some awkward scenes that could have been brought to life by an actor who is more confident in the genre. If you know Aubrey Plaza, then you already know that the role of Beth Slocum fits her perfectly. It's filled with the eye-rolling and the sarcasm that we've come to expect from her. However, she even handles the horror elements incredibly well, making for a truly captivating portrayal of Beth. The supporting performances are a mixed bag. I have absolutely no idea how John C Reilly continues to get work, but here he is playing himself once again. On the other hand, Anna Kendrick delivers a few laughs with the small amount of screen time in the role of Erica Wexler. By the end of the picture, it's clear that Plaza is the most impressive asset in the acting department.
Fortunately, filmmaker Jeff Baena limited the use of CGI throughout the picture's duration. This could have easily transformed into a digital mess of occasional shock value, although most of his gags are utilized in order to deliver on the laughs. Since a lot of the comedy is situational, it requires Aubrey Plaza to get under a bunch of makeup. The prosthetics used during these scenes are rather impressive. However, even his use of camera movement and placement aid in telling the story in a unique way that separates it from others within this growing sub-genre of zombie comedies. Life After Beth certainly utilizes an intriguing visual style to create a more vibrant piece of storytelling.
While not perfect, Life After Beth is an entertaining entry in the zomedy sub-genre. Writer/director Jeff Baena's debut works due to its smaller scale that holds focus on Zach and Beth, although this is ultimately disturbed in the third act. The sudden change in scale makes the picture become a lot less about the goals and revelations of our lead. There's plenty of situational humor, and a decent amount of it delivers on the laughs. Actress Aubrey Plaza steals the screen, as she truly makes this an entertaining picture that doesn't outstay its welcome. Life After Beth is enjoyable enough, but it never entirely comes to life on screen. Rent it.