Aw, this was a cute one. Not just because of the perfect casting of my favourite deadpan lady Aubrey Plaza as a zombie, but because I have a soft spot for horror romantic comedies. There was a time, pre-Shaun of the Dead, that it wasn’t done as widely because the three genres didn’t mesh well for mainstream audiences.
Like yesterday’s movie (Horns), Life After Beth throws us right into the story; Zach (Dane DeHaan) is a grief-stricken mess after the death of his girlfriend Beth (Plaza), who was bitten by a venomous snake while hiking alone. Even after her death, he maintains a close bond with her parents Maury (John C. Reilly) Geenie (Molly Shannon), until they suddenly stop returning his calls and pretend they’re not home. Not entirely convinced they’re just avoiding him for being clingy, he peeks into their windows one afternoon and sees…Beth. Alive and well, not a scratch on her.
Understandably confused, he confronts Maury and Geenie who try to calm him down, especially as Beth seems to have no idea she died in the first place. For the time being, Zach agrees to keep quiet about the whole thing until Beth starts experiencing some pretty violent moodswings.
From here on in, it’s a hectic swerve from one comedic set-piece to another, and because Beth’s transformation is the premise (and marketing point) of the movie, it’s weird that it takes so long to get there, and then shifts gears into the zombie problem at-large. It’s like two different movies stitched together, and a bit of an anti-climactic ending tacked on.
I watched for Plaza’s perfect zombie-teen-girl acting (and for Anna Kendrick in a small role as Zach’s childhood friend Erica), but everybody does their best bit, because the cast has almost nothing but comedy veterans. Even Matthew Gray Gubler has some nifty comic timing and adorable believable sibling chemistry as Zach’s twatty but well-meaning older brother Kyle. DeHaan isn’t given much to do but look confused and scream a lot, so in scenes in which he gets to be deadpan himself (such as the opening scene when he’s searching for black napkins, or on the phone to Maury while lying on his parents’ floor), he’s fucking hilarious.
But it doesn’t look like anybody knows what to do with this talented lot except make them improvise arguments, which result in the type of unscripted, cacophonous group freak-outs like the ones in Timecode, in which you can’t figure out what everyone’s saying and the yelling just goes on for far too long.
The soundtrack is a weakness for me, because Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is a weakness for me. Not sure why they went with it (maybe shoegaze is the perfect accompaniment to a zombie flick), but I don’t care. Moar BMRC, please. Only Lovers Left Alive was too long ago. There’s another type of music that’s used as a humour device, and it’s funny the first few times they use it, but it’s overused and overloud. I don’t need to be punched in the face with how funny it is.
At 89 minutes, it’s a very short movie anyway, so flaws tend to be overlooked when you’re keeping up with a movie pace this fast. While proper critics opined that the movie felt like an overlong, drawn-out comedy sketch idea, I wished we’d seen more. More scenes of Beth’s transformation, more scenes with her and Zach, more of her zombie nature (but not necessarily the gore). More of each set of parents (even having them interact). We saw Zach and Maury and Geenie mourning in the beginning of the movie and really felt for them, so this didn’t seem like it was set up to be a brainless zombie comedy. It felt like too much was cut to make it feel like a one-note comic sketch, and structure-providing plot points (such as a slightly racist chase for a Haitian housemaid) were just thrown in with no resolution. It made me hope for a sequel, but I doubt that’s coming. Argh. This could have been so much more awesome.