Decades’ worth of horror films have shown that zombies crave brains like a bargain hunter on Black Friday. And that’s kept the undead in business at the box-office since the Halperin Brothers released White Zombie back in 1932. Well, it turns out that zombies need a little lovin’ like everybody else.
Life After Beth is a suburban zom-com that isn’t afraid to chew over the grieving process while cracking a couple of funny bones along the way. Jeff Baena the writer of I Heart Huckabees brings his flair for existentialism to the director’s chair, alongside penning the script, which is more mumblecore than splatterfest.
The story opens on Zach (Dane DeHaan), an aimless teen, trying to buy black napkins at a supermarket for his girlfriend’s wake, who happens to be the film’s title character Beth (Aubrey Plaza). In the aftermath Zack finds solace with Beth’s dad Maury Slocum (John C. Reilly), and they ruminate over a pot-fuelled chess game on their troubled last moments with the recently deceased. Zach is a ball of melancholy, spending his days by the pool, and humping his beloved’s favourite scarf at night. Then Beth miraculously returns from the dead, and picks up her life right where she left off.
Zack and Beth’s second chance at love unspools at a sedate pace as Maury and Geenie Slocum (Molly Shannon) plot to keep their infantilised daughter from being a lab experiment, while Zack warms up to the idea of being part of a necrophiliac romance. But the honeymoon soon ends as Beth’s neediness turns to hunger for an all-you-can-eat human-shaped buffet. Zack finds himself trapped literally in a dying relationship, as Erica Wexier (Anna Kendrick) pops up as a perky love rival, and an unlikely harbinger of doom, foreshadowing a George A. Romero-style Dawn of The Dead finale.
Jeff Baena has crafted a relationship centred zom-com that relies on humorous observation rather than gory gut rips. And it’s all the better for it, Plaza and DeHaan sink their teeth into their respective roles with passion and gusto, carrying their sparsely drawn characters to a convincing but outlandish climax. The supporting cast led by John C. Reilly are equally engaging and funny, and a special mention goes out to Matthew Gray Gubler playing Zack’s gun-nut brother Kyle, who finds out that shooting people isn’t cool. There’s just enough fresh meat on display to make Life After Beth standout in the burgeoning genre of teens hooking up with creatures of the night.