LIFE AFTER BETH (USA/15A/89mins) Directed by Jeff Baena. Starring Dane DeHaan, Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Anna Kendrick. THE PLOT: What would you do if your recently deceased girlfriend reappeared, seemingly alive, with no recollection of her ‘death’? This is the problem faced by Zach (Dane DeHaan) in Life After Beth, when Beth (Aubrey Plaza) returns and is hidden away by her delighted but seemingly clueless parents. It is not long before Zach realises something is terribly wrong, but trying to negotiate and reason with the recently deceased – and grotesquely horny – Beth proves harder than he would like. THE PLOT: Zombies, man. Like vampires a few years ago, zombies are absolutely everywhere at the moment. TV, film, books… Not real life though – I don’t think – ‘cos that would be horrific. Anyway, Life After Beth is another twist on the zombie story, another play with zombie lore, and another attempt that almost works.
The cast here is stupendous; John C. Reilly, Dane DeHaan, Aubrey Plaza, Cheryl Hines and Anna Kendrick prove that they have a knack for making great choices when it comes to scripts. Plaza plays up the confused and horny zombie to brilliant effect, Reilly grabs onto the idea of father in denial and runs with it, and DeHaan carries the movie – and provides the voice of reason – as a young man delighted his girlfriend is not really dead, but unsure what this actually means. Kendrick has fun with the giggly, vapid post-teenager Erica; Jim O’Heir and Adam Pally – last seen on TV and um… Iron Man 3 – turn up in small roles.
The story, written by Jeff Baena is yet another twist on the zombie story; what if the dead came back seemingly as themselves, and the zombie plague required a gestation period of sorts, before striking in full force. The idea plays with the notion that people in walking dead type production have no trouble in shooting their zombie loved ones in the head. The trouble is that once all of this is established, the story really relies on the way it ends, and the ending is one that fizzles out, leaving the film with tons of unanswered questions – why do the zombies like attics? – and an unfinished feel.
As director, Jeff Baena never quite gets the balance between comedy and melodrama right, leaving the audiences feeling as though they are laughing at the wrong things. The performances are strong, but the world of the film never feels fully fleshed out enough (sorry!) to support them. There are tons of great moments, but these never gel together enough to make Life After Beth live up to its potential.
LIFE AFTER BETH is a film with a clever central idea, and a wonderful cast that do a heck of a job, but without a proper ending, and massive unresolved questions, LIFE AFTER BETH is two thirds a good movie, and one third an unholy mess. Shame, I have such a soft spot for Aubrey Plaza.