MIFF2014: Life After Beth

DSC_0255.JPGIf you thought there wasn’t much left to chew on for zombie movies, well you might be wrong there. Life After Beth is a smart zombie comedy that retains its central message while it keeps the laughter rolling throughout. The directorial debut of “I Heart Huckabees” co-writer Jeff Baena reminds us all the fact that while we enjoy a good zom-rom-com flick, the mash-up of the three genres is an awfully bizarre monster of its own.

The film starts off with Beth (Aubrey Plaza) going for a hike with an ominous tone in the background before quickly cutting to boyfriend Zach (Dane DeHaan) grieving her death. While his parents are unable to relate to Zach’s emotional turmoil, he finds comfort in the company of Beth’s parents Maury (John C. Reilly) and Geenie (Molly Shannon). Things seem to be going along fine, since Zach was playing chess and smoking pot with Maury, but soon Beth’s parents are ignoring him. They wouldn’t answer his calls or his knocks on their front door. As Zach becomes paranoid about being shut out of their lives, he decides to go snoop around only to find that Beth is still alive!

Well… sort of.

life after beth 4Beth is physically present in the house but something is odd about her. Prior to her death, she was on the verge of breaking up with Zach as they were going though some problems; however she currently has no recollection of that. Geenie insists that she’s been resurrected while Maury just doesn’t want to think about how she came back. Maury and Geenie are happy for Zach to keep Beth company, as long as he does not tell anyone about Beth being still ‘alive’.  Zach’s initial worry is that Beth may have come back as a zombie but since her only problem is a mild case of amnesia, he happily jumps at the chance to rekindle their relationship from where they left off. Zach is in bliss and things are beautiful, even though Beth’s got a nasty snake wound that she doesn’t even notice…

Then things start to get weird. Beth is getting more and more aggressive. She is also getting ridiculously strong too. Worst part, she has started to develop a strong affinity towards jazz music. In addition to seeing the relationship start to deteriorate again, the world is also slowly falling apart behind them.

life after beth 3Baena retains a tight focus on our star-crossed lovebirds despite all the chaos that surrounds them. The whole slow burn technique of having the world deteriorate like Beth in incremental fashion is quite clever as the characters in the movie don’t notice (or perhaps not care to notice) the bizarre changes happening. It certainly helps give the reveal of the zombie apocalypse a bit of a comedic touch.

While the whole set up is quite strong, the film does start to fall apart in its final act. The narrative goes into shambles before picking itself back up right in time for the end. Despite the slight setback, Life After Beth is a mix of heartbreak and pure slapstick comedy. With the talented cast in tow, I was surprised that the film wasn’t funnier than what it is! Aubrey Plaza seemed to be having a lot of fun going through the transition from being the typical girl next door to a full-on zombie. The supporting cast of John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser, Matthew Gray Gubler and Anna Kendrick makes the most of their screentime and turns the tiniest moments into comedic gold. It seems like everyone was having a good time on set and it translates into the final product. That being said, the movie does truly belong to DeHaan as he carried most of the weight in this movie. He does an excellent job balancing comedy and drama while striking up excellent chemistry with every member of the supporting cast.

life after beth 2Zach and Beth’s relationship treads into familiar territory with the whole ‘be careful what you wish for’ story. We all know that once something comes back from the dead, it can’t end well. Life After Beth is a clever film that doubles as a metaphor for finding the strength to walk away from a relationship that can’t be saved. What makes this film so great is that the whole zombie apocalypse thing is pretty much left in the background. Instead, we get to focus on the characters, namely DeHaan’s character Zach as he finds himself in a position that many of us have experienced in our own lives (and no it is not the part about having sex with the dead). It’s the part where he’s slowly coming to a realization that the relationship that he’s been fighting so hard fix is best left to die. When we’re in love, even if the relationship doesn’t feel quite right, we try to make it work despite the fact that it is heading towards an end. Sometimes the toughest part is not saying goodbye, it is finding the courage and the right moment to say it.

Rating: B

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