Jeff Baena had the difficult task of uglying up the wonderful Aubrey Plaza for his zombie-comedy Life After Beth, a charming indie film that stars Dane DeHaan as Zach, who finds out that his deceased girlfriend mysteriously returns from the dead. And although her mind and body are slowly decaying, he takes this opportunity to fall in love with her all over again… until she gets a hunger for human flesh. Baena’s undead take on falling in love creates a charming wrinkle in the zombie genre as it shines a light on a couple with a second chance at love.
The film pretty much starts off with its title character already dead as we see Zach and her family mourning her death. It’s an interesting way to start the story because we’re never given the chance to meet Beth before she’s dead. I actually really liked this approach because although we know nothing about Beth at this point, it allows the film to throw us right into the pain and emotions surrounding her death and what the family and her boyfriend, Zach, are going through. It also makes her inevitable return all that much better because when we finally see her hit the screen, we know she’s a zombie.
The beginning of this one sets a fantastic pace and hits all the right notes along the way. It was especially a lot of fun to see DeHaan freaking out over the fact that his girlfriend has somehow come back from the grave. How trippy would that be? At one point he thinks she faked her death just to break up with him. I love that. But what’s great about Life After Beth is in the way that it approached these classic monsters that we call zombies. Now that Beth is back from the dead, she appears to be totally normal and is completely oblivious to the fact that she died. Her family and Zach are all trying to hide it from her and act like everything’s totally normal. Once she slowly starts to decay and get a taste for man-flesh, however, things become a lot harder to cover up.
That’s what I really liked about this film is that its zombies aren’t quite like the traditional ones we’ve come to know over the years; at least not right away they aren’t. The process is very slow and they don’t even know they’re dead until it’s too late. The film had a lot of fun with that and it delivers a lot of laughs based around this premise. There’s just something about watching someone slowly realize they’re dead and have the uncontrollable urge to eat people that made this one pretty damn funny.
Speaking of laughs, Matthew Gray Gubler plays the older brother to Zach and provides a fantastic counter-balance to DeHaan’s character. Some of my favorite scenes in the film were all thanks to Gubler, and although you don’t get to see him much (unfortunately), they make great use of his scenes. And then there’s Aubrey Plaza, who plays the titular character of Beth. Man, she’s great. You don’t typically get to see a fantastic actress like Plaza who’s just as gorgeous as she is talented play the role of a zombie. That in itself was a lot of fun to see and certainly reason enough to check out Life After Beth. It was a really cool role for her and she absolutely nailed it.
My only real issues with the film came towards the middle half and the very end. With such a strong start, Life After Beth almost seems to hit a wall around the halfway mark where I think it could have used something to give it a spark. Maybe more of Gubler’s character? Thankfully, it’s just a small hiccup in what is an otherwise really enjoyable little film. And although the climax of the film features plenty of carnage and destruction, I didn’t like how they wrap it all up. It all comes to an end a little bit too conveniently, almost like the writers couldn’t figure out how they wanted to end it. And the most frustrating part is that they tease a very cool finish, but ultimately decide to play it safe. Other than that, though, I thought Baena did a fantastic job with this one. It’s an entertaining film and it’s nice to see that the zombie genre can still hide some tricks up its rotting sleeves. Alright, cue the smooth jazz!