My last post, a much longer rant than I had anticipated, concerned the realms of creepy love. It’s a worrying fact about society today that normal love stories are no longer enough to satisfy an audience’s needs. It needs to be unusual and extremely over-the-top. It’s an explanation for why the humble rom-com that kept Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in work for most of the 80s now only exists within hybrids with other genres. As time goes on these will only get fucking weirder but, for now, the supernatural romantic love story still seems to be exciting the type of pathetic people who think the latest popular YA sensation is the most romantic fucking story ever written. Hollywood knows where to place its bets and love stories featuring sexy versions of horror movies staples have been ten a penny in recent years. For the most part I’m okay with it if I can avoid it but, I have to admit, I’m a little about the potential popularity of the zombie romantic comedy (or zom-rom-com). I mean it seems to me that the moment young people start fantasising about having sex with dead people we could have a major fucking problem on our hands.
I realise that, as someone who has already admitted to being jaded with the current amount of zombie focused content filtering out of our entertainment industry, this review was never going to be glowing. However, zombie-based comedy is not a new thing. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s Shaun of the Dead was one of the earlier and strongest additions to the genre and pretty much ruined anyone else’s chances of beating it. Their film came out 10 whole years before Life After Beth so my naive heart still believed it could make a difference. I loved the premise and, as someone who desperately wants to be Aubrey Plaza, was fairly excited to see how the cast dealt with it.
The story begins with the death of Beth Slocum, a young girl bitten by a snake whilst hiking. Obviously the tragic events comes as a huge shock to her parents, Geenie and Maury, (Molly Shannon and John C. Reilly) and her boyfriend, Zach Orfman (Dane DeHaan). Zach finds comfort in visiting the mourning family until they mysteriously start to avoid him. Turns out Beth came back from the dead and her mental parents have taken to hiding their little miracle in the attic. Zach, upon discovering his undead former love, realises that he now has the chance to make amends for the shitty relationship they had before that pesky death business put a damper on things.
Of course, in the early stages the relationship is at its necrophilic best with Beth picking up where she left off. She is seemingly the same person she was but slightly more rotten skin. Much quicker than he discovers how fucking weird it is to be having sex with a zombie, Zach realises that death has had a a much greater effect on his girlfriend that it initially appeared. Beth is now super strong, quick to anger and only subdued when listening to endless hours of Smooth Jazz. Not exactly his ideal women then.
Life After Beth could have been a fucking great film if it had stayed within the domestic territory of ‘boy meets girl, boy loses girl to snake bite, girls comes back from the dead, boy happily starts sleeping with girl again’. That would have been the perfect blend of simple and funny that would have allowed the strong cast to do good work. Instead, Jeff Baena attempts to evolve this narrative into a much bigger/shitter zombie apocalypse story and manages to lose control of it all. He leaves too much unexplained and shows too little of the scale of the problem to create enough drama.
It’s a huge fucking disappointing that Life After Beth fell into such a familiar pattern because it seemed to be a fresh approach to an undeniably over-saturated genre. The cast do a great job with the material they are given and could have done much better with a stronger premise. John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon are fucking great as Beth’s overprotective and incredibly crazy parents. Dane DeHaan, not your typical rom-com lead, is sensible enough to play the grieving Zach with the right level of creepy so you can understand his actions whilst never being fully on board with them.
Of course, Aubrey Plaza is the star of the show and manages to pull a shitty concept into something vaguely watchable. She does great work as the happy-go-luck, just back from the dead Beth and as the fully fledged Zombie psycho strapped to an oven Beth. She has most of the movies funniest and most memorable moments. I’d hate to have seen what a fucking huge pile of shit this would have been without her. Especially when you consider Baena’s half-hearted introduction of the women also vying for Zach’s affection, Erica (Anna Kendrick). Kendrick has about five minutes of being nice and pretty and is basically forgotten until the films final act. It’s just another distraction that we could have done without and is fucking disrespectful to an actress as reliable as Kendrick.
Life After Beth‘s problems arise from the fact that it’s not a complete idea. The script basically came from an idea that would have produced a good-length YouTube sketch that was stretched into a 90 minute film. It proves that there might still be room to work within the zombie genre but warns anyone willing to take the risk that its going to be more difficult than they’d think. Film makers have become fucking lazy because, when it comes to zombies, we’ve seen it all before. All we need is one strong and original idea and the undead film industry could really come back to life.