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MIFF 2014 Review: Life After Beth (2014) — Disappointing Zom-Com That Lacks Bite

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Life After Beth opens with Zach (Dane DeHaan) mourning the recent death of his girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza). He takes solace in the companionship of Beth’s parents (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon), until they suddenly break contact with the confused Zach. While desperately attempting to re-ignite contact, he realises that Beth has mysteriously reappeared and her parents have been hiding her. Zach takes this opportunity to re-establish their romantic relationship, but over time the resurrected Beth begins to grow increasingly aggressive and unpredictable, and a level of physical decomposition begins to set in. But Zach soon realises that his zombie girlfriend is not alone as more and more of the undead begin to appear in town.

Somebody's cranky...

Somebody’s cranky…

From first-time writer/director Jeff Baena, Life After Beth suffers from a lack of inspiration. It fails as a zombie film, it fails as a comedy, and it fails as a relationship film; but it’s not terrible — it’s just unbelievably mediocre. After the gimmick of ‘zombie girlfriend’ is played out after the first 30 minutes, the movie plods along without any major developments until it ultimately fizzles out at the climax. It’s an idea that would have worked in a smaller time-frame, but the feature-length hurts it.

The film is built around the talented Aubrey Plaza; she plays the title character and the marketing is based solely around her visage. While she does look like she’s having some fun with the role and cutting loose, the character of Beth is less of an actual character and more of a plot device. It is interesting to see Plaza playing against type as a sweet girl before the rage of becoming a zombie sets in — she plays angry and sarcastic in nearly everything she’s in to date — but it’s just not around for long enough to remain engaging. That leaves the majority of the film on DeHaan’s shoulders, but his character is so unlikable that you are actually wanting the one-note Beth to appear when she’s not in the scene. It’s a good thing that Anna Kendrick appears for a brief period to fill the movie with some light and energy.

Pictured: Not teens.

Pictured: Not teens.

There’s a problem with casting. Dialogue suggests that characters played by Plaza and DeHaan are high school aged, and although I think Plaza can still pull off that age, DeHaan — and DeHaan’s receding hairline — definitely can’t. It’s uncomfortable to see a man who looks to be pushing thirty playing a horny, pining teenager. Never has there been such an egregious age differential since the days of Luke Perry in prime-time.

And talk about wasted casting, this is a film that features a rare appearance of Paul Reiser, who is given absolutely nothing of note to do. Likewise John C. Reilly, who has a fairly significant role, suffers from a poor script and his character is totally forgettable. What a waste!

Too many odd things happen in this film that are left unexplained. Why do zombies like attics and listening to smooth jazz? It’s an annoying oddity that has no logical explanation other than Baena wanted the script to be all whimsical and quirky. And what the hell was with the annoying (racist?) red-herring sub-plot of the disgruntled Haitian housekeeper, who potentially caused the zombie outbreak with voodoo? A zombie wearing sunglasses? Absolutely pointless.

I guess pointless is an apt description for the entire film, because ultimately I didn’t get what kind of message this movie trying to convey. Is it about letting go of the ones you love? Does the rotting corpse of Beth represent the rotting corpse of a relationship? One where she becomes increasingly aggressive towards Zach when it seems he is potentially ready to move on? Or is Beth becoming a zombie a metaphorical response to Zach’s obsession with her? The message is murky, if there is one at all, and it’s too bad there isn’t enough humour to make it a worthwhile watch.

Llama Score: 4I wanted to like Life After Beth. I really did. And it’s not a bad movie, but it’s just disappointing in the lack of laughs, the waste of talented actors, and the general lack of focus. This movie doesn’t know the point it’s trying to make, which could be excused if it was at least funny. It’s frustratingly mediocre.

 

Award: Lorne MichaelsAward: Cuba Gooding Jr

Highlights Banner

– Anna Kendrick lights up the screen (for the brief period she’s there).

Lowlights Banner

– A waste of many great actors.

– Comedy falls flat.

– Pointless script.

Further Viewing Banner

Warm Bodies

– Night of the Living Dead

– Zombieland

Directed by: Jeff Baena Written by: Jeff Baena Produced by: Michael Zakin, Liz Destro Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser, Matthew Gray Gubler, John C. Reilly Distributed by: A24 Run length: 91 minutes Australian Release: Limited (Melbourne International Film Festival)
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