What would you do if a loved one came back from the grave? How would you come to terms with that? Would you tell them all the things you never had the chance to? Would you be sure to get the most out of every moment you have together during this miraculous second chance?
No, of course not, you’d be scared completely shitless. They rose from the dead, ya dingus! That’s initially how Zack (Dane DeHaan) reacts to the return of his girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza), who dies after a hiking accident in Life After Beth. Panic is his initial reaction, but then his fear and confusion gradually turn into excitement. Right before she died, they were going through some heavy relationship issues and Beth was ready to split with him. Now, he has a second chance to get it right and fix the broken parts of their relationship.
Beth has no memory of ever having died. Her parents, John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon, perpetuate her amnesia by keeping her hidden in the house. If anyone sees her or if she reveals she’s alive in any way (answering the phone, for instance), they’re afraid she’ll be taken from them for a second time and used for scientific study. They’re not about to let that happen, but all their parental shields can’t stand in the way of true love. Or prevent Beth from rotting away physically and emotionally.
Life After Beth is the directorial debut of Jeff Baena, who co-wrote I Heart Huckabees. It’s definitely not the film I was expecting it to be. It’s not simply a zomedy about a young guy dealing with his zombie girlfriend. There’s way more heart and honesty on display here. It addresses the question of what if this were to happen, though in an incessantly charming and comedic manner. However, sometimes it sacrifices meaningful explorations of these themes for the sake of a laugh, causing the themes to get jumbled up. Her parents’ motivations are perfectly clear and understandable – they’re terrified of losing their daughter again. But when Zack goes from panicking over his zombie girlfriend to making out with her within only a few minutes, his motivations completely dissolve.
Rock solid comedic casting helps make up a bit for what Life After Beth lacks in actual insight. DeHaan and Plaza both help carry the film, with Plaza giving an exciting performance that ranges from her usual deadpan sarcasm seen on Parks & Rec to raging amnesiac zombie. In recent years she’s been gradually bringing her distinct presence to the big screen in films like Safety Not Guaranteed and The To Do List, but she appears the most comfortable in Beth’s shoes. The supporting cast is also packed with greatness. Besides the always on-point John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon, there’s also Cheryl Hines and Paul Riser as Zack’s parents and Anna Kendrick as a supportive friend.
The performances help the film sprint along, though I wish it slowed down a bit to consider the ramifications of kissing and killing the undead (Beth isn’t the only one who rises from the grave – not really a spoiler) that are hinted at early on. The tone can be all over the place at times, with the more intimate, familial moments between Reilly and DeHaan ringing the most true. It’s like Baena really wanted to explore the themes introduced during the film’s first act, then threw them away in favor of big laughs. I’m all for horror-comedy and Life After Beth is a damn funny movie, but it can;t decide if it actually wants to say anything about its themes or not.