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MOVIE REVIEW: ‘LIFE AFTER BETH’ HAS DARK LAUGHS

MOVIE REVIEW: ‘LIFE AFTER BETH’ HAS DARK LAUGHS

Life After Beth (2014) is the new  indie film written and directed by Jeff Baena, starring Aubrey Plaza in the title role as Beth, who returns mysteriously from the grave, oblivious of her own death.

This film follows in the footsteps of a recent spate of zombie stories that have more heart than guts, like the movie Warm Bodies, and the TV shows In the Flesh and The Returned.   But where Warm Bodies’ heart is light and sweet, Life After Beth’s heart is often dark and brooding.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t funny as hell, though.

After the recent death of his girlfriend, Zach (Dane Dehaan)  is despondent,  and finds some solace in sharing his pain with Beth’s parents (Maury and Geanie Slocum, played with priceless exuberance by John C. Riley and Molly Shannon).  But after Zach catches a glimpse of Beth through their living room window, he and even his own family start to question his sanity.  Off to the CAT scan.

A quick visit to the graveyard though, deepens the mystery.  Beth’s grave is still there, but how do you explain that big hole in the ground?  Now completely convinced the Slocums are somehow squirreling Beth away in their house,  Zach wants that question answered, which they confirm, followed by this exchange:

Maury: Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth!
Zach: She could be a zombie!
Geanie: She’s resurrected!
Maury: She’s resurrected!
Zach: And that’s better why?
Maury: It’s from the Old Testament!

It becomes immediately obvious that the Slocums are in complete denial about Beth’s death and miraculous “resurrection,” and soon Zach is as well.  After all, he will have a second chance to say and do the things he hadn’t said or done before she died.  Except there’s something just not right about Beth, especially between her hilarious “goldfish memory” episodes and insane fits of mania.

Stealing the show is Aubrey Plaza, as a manic teen-zombie in love, torn between teen angst and unbridled zombie rage (and really, is there any other kind of teen)?  Plaza is Jeff Baena’s real-life girlfriend, who was looking for a new vehicle for her talents, and this project fit the bill.  This is Baena’s directorial debut– and truly an impressive one.  The screenplay  actually sat in limbo for the past 10 years, apparently waiting for the right time to be produced.  I predict it won’t be another ten years for Baena’s next directorial venture.

4/5 Stars

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