LifeAfterBeth-1I would not blame you if you were becoming a bit sick of the un-dead. If they’re not stalking our multiplexes, they can easily be found devouring flesh on television, collapsing natural order in novels/comic-books, as well as causing thumb-cramping frustration and terror in video-games. To commit yourself as an artefact of the Zombie genre is to enter a huge sub category of horror, in which it is very hard to appear fresh and worthwhile. Life After Beth is the latest in the band of genre hopefuls wishing to make an impression at a rather crowded party. Taking the mould of the Rom-Zom-Com, a term coined by and (to my knowledge) never repeated since Shaun of the Dead, Life After Beth takes on down an off-beat track and delivers an engaging relationship tale that is blessed with an oh-so-important element; a talented and committed cast.

After going for a hike alone in the woods, 21 year-old Beth (Aubrey Plaza) tragically dies from a snakebite, leaving her family and boyfriend, Zach (Dane DeHaan) heartbroken and full of regret. However, Zach soon discovers that Beth has risen from the dead and resumed her normal position in life. Seemingly back to normal, Zach begins to realise that things aren’t quite what they seem with the re-animated Beth, and when more and more people start returning from the dead, Zach knows there can only be one answer; a zombie apocalypse.LifeAfterBeth-2

Writer/director Jeff Baena (whose only previous writing credit includes I Heart Huckabees) imbues his screenplay with a quirky type of humour which revels in making idiots out of the individuals found in America suburbia. Zach, although grief-riddled and pining for his lost girlfriend, is the only one who manages to stay a few steps ahead of the zombie chaos, while Beth’s parents (wonderfully played by John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon) naively believe that some divine intervention has brought their daughter back to them, even when she begins to crave human flesh.

What allows Life After Beth to work as effectively as it does is down to its indie-roots, and its full embrace of this pedigree. Baena suggests enough through background quirks and sound design to suggest that there is a wider world of chaos ensuing whilst we focus on Zach and his attempts to organise his own personal chaos with the return of his un-dead girlfriend. Its treatment of the zombie process is also refreshing and comedic-ally rich, with the dead seemingly normal for a time, returning to their pre-occupations to maintain the order of capitalist realism, before descending into failure and chaos as their impulses become cannibalistic and primal. It is a subtle social commentary which doesn’t take centre stage next to the relationship dramedy, but is present enough to make the case that Life After Beth is a more thoughtful text than one would expect.

LifeAfterBeth-3As stated in the opening paragraph to this review, much of what grants Life After Beth its success is its cast. Dane DeHaan seems incredibly at ease in this type of fare, playing up the nervous ticks as Zach’s situation becomes more pressing and more ridiculous. He also has an easy-going chemistry with Plaza, helping to convey just the right amount of affection between a couple who or may not have even stayed together should Beth not have died on that hike.

Speaking of Plaza; Life After Beth is most certainly a star vehicle for the sardonic charmer known to many as April Ludgate. Plaza’s sarcastic, deadpan schtick is very much present, but Plaza commits wholly and truly to the more grotesque and blood-lusting sides of her character. Plaza is very much following the mentality of that if you’re going to play a zombie, you better make damn sure you have fun doing it. It’s a two-way relationship in this respect, as her energy is what gives the audience a great deal of satisfaction, particularly come the more un-focused final third. She’s all snarls and snaps, putting across one of the funniest and and strangely intimidating zombie performances of recent memory. As long as she doesn’t keep the same act going for too long, Plaza should have a very promising career come the end of Parks and Recreation next year. LifeAfterBeth-4

Life After Beth is a pleasant surprise for the approaching Halloween season. It is not a film that prides itself on horror in any means, but it is one that refreshingly tries to make itself original in a genre which would seem has very little left to give. Granted, this doesn’t do anything particularly new, and the final third does seem like there are too many ideas being executed at once. But when the focus returns to the relationship between Zach and Beth, the film finds its soul and its heart, deftly balancing pathos and humour, a balance that is difficult to strike for even more seasoned comedy writers.

4/5- It limps a bit to the finish line, but for the most part Life After Beth is a Rom-Zom-Com worth devouring. 

 

 

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