Film Review: Life After Beth

Recommended for zombie-lovers only, and there are definitely enough of them out there to appreciate this determinedly wacky yet distancing effort about the undead.

Poor Zach (Dane DeHaan). He is in deepest mourning for his girlfriend Beth Slocum (Aubrey Plaza), who got bitten by a snake and has gone to the great beyond. Inconsolable, he spends an unseemly amount of time with her parents Maury (John C. Reilly) and Geenie (Molly Shannon), while his own parents (Paul Reiser and Cheryl Hines) and obnoxious brother (Matthew Gray Gubler) wonder what the hell is going on with him. One day, however, Zach finds the Slocum doors implacably closed against him. He stalks their house and eventually realizes that Beth is still living there. "Living" is not exactly accurate, because she is still dead, actually a zombie.

Zombie films, this viewer confesses, have always been problematic for me. Lacking the hauntingly tragic backstories of most vampires, Frankenstein monsters, mummies or wolf men, their spooky antics have always seemed rather random and plainly jejune, whether rising up against the God-fearing citizens of rural Pennsylvania in Night of the Living Dead or making with the funky moves as backup in Michael Jackson's “Thriller.” The only undead epic that I've ever been able to really appreciate is Val Lewton's eerily atmospheric I Walked with a Zombie, so I was hoping that Life After Beth, with its hip, postmodern approach, might offer similar interest.

Sadly, it doesn't, although it's sure to find fans among those inordinately besotted with this genre. Writer-director Jeff Baena maintains a tongue-in-cheek attitude throughout that is so ironic it undermines audience engagement. He might have been able to carry it off had the movie been in any way funny, but it isn't. It's just determinedly weird, so however much Baena might want to either scare you or pull you into frantic Zach's plight, he achieves neither aim through his relentlessly too-cool-for-school style.

Good performances might also have helped, but no one really shines here, not DeHaan, who's a very generic juvenile, nor Plaza, whose forceful, bug-eyed weirdness here lacks the charm of her underappreciated turn in the entertainingly raunchy The To Do List. Anna Kendrick is wasted as the "good girl" alternative to Plaza's living corpse, while Reilly, Shannon, Hines and Reiser merely mug away. It's the kind of film that thinks the sight of old, gray-complected Jews, covered with gravesite soil, come to reclaim their former home, is sidesplittingly funny. Some very flat visuals don't help.

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