VOD film review: Life after Beth
Balance of comedy and horror8
Matthew Turner | On 31, Jan 2015
Director: Jeff Baena
Cast: Dane DeHaan, Aubrey Plaza, John C Reilly, Molly Shannon, Anna Kendrick
Watch Life after Beth online in the UK: TalkTalk TV / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
A worthy successor to Shaun of the Dead, writer-director Jeff Baena’s zomcom gets the comedy-horror balance exactly right and delivers some huge laughs, thanks to a smart script, some inspired direction and strong comic performances.
Dane DeHaan stars as Zach, a soulful teenager whose girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza) dies of a snakebite while hiking in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park. Distraught with grief, Zach takes to visiting Beth’s parents (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon) and is both horrified and delighted to discover that Beth is still living in their house, back from the dead and sporting a rather nasty-looking snakebite wound, but with no apparent memory of having died.
Zach duly rekindles his relationship with Beth under strict conditions imposed by her parents: first, that he doesn’t take her outside or tell anyone she’s still alive and second, that he doesn’t tell Beth she’s dead. However, Zach soon realises that his relationship comes with a few new problems, such as Beth’s sudden mood swings and the fact that her body appears to be decomposing.
Plaza (best known for TV’s Parks & Recreation) is clearly enjoying herself and she handles Beth’s gradual transition in effective fashion, as well as busting out some impressive RAGE acting that ought to make her the front-runner if Marvel ever make a She-Hulk movie. Similarly, DeHaan demonstrates a gift for comic timing and generates strong chemistry with her, even when Zach starts to realise that perhaps their continued relationship isn’t quite such a great idea after all.
Baena’s tone is assured throughout, balancing laugh-out-loud gags and engaging emotional moments with a series of imaginatively twisted zombie tropes. He also conjures up some amusingly surreal contributions to zombie lore, such as the fact that the undead can be appeased by listening to smooth jazz.
In addition to providing a commendably high gag rate, Baena’s clever script also has some observant things to say about the nature of love, grief and obsession, while the similar thematic elements mean that the film also plays as a blackly comic version of recent French TV series The Returned. On top of that, just as 2000’s Ginger Snaps posited werewolfism as a metaphor for emerging female sexuality, Life After Beth offers up zombie-ism as a surprisingly effective metaphor for relationship problems and rage issues, in particular.
A hugely enjoyable and smartly written comedy horror, Life after Beth marks writer-director Jeff Baena out as a future talent to watch. Highly recommended.