Life After Beth is the directorial debut of Jeff Baena, the co-writer of the 2004 movie, I Heart Huckabees. It’s a strange mix of horror, comedy and romance, and its small budget relies heavily on the talent of its well established cast. The story, while having a generally interesting premise, isn’t exactly up to par with other successful zombie comedy movies like that of Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, or the more recent Warm Bodies. It succeeds in creating some laughs, as well as showcasing some of the talent of its main actors, Aubrey Plaza and Dane DeHaan, but unfortunately, doesn’t use them to their full potential. Despite a few redeeming qualities, it fails to stand out in an already overly popular subgenre of movies.
Zach (Dane DeHaan) is grieving after the recent death of his girlfriend, Beth (Audrey Plaza), who went on a hike one day and was bitten by a poisonous snake. Zach, missing Beth and feeling guilty about their troubled relationship before her death, sulks around for a few days with her scarf wrapped around his neck, while his parents (Cheryl Hines and Paul Reiser) and brother (Matthew Gray Gubler) insensitively demand that he snaps out of it. Zach develops a close relationship with Beth’s parents (Molly Shannon and John C. Reilly), but once they stop returning his phone calls and refuse to let him in the house, Zach becomes suspicious. He sneaks around outside their house and sees Beth through a window. At first, he thinks that her death was just a hoax and a sad excuse for a break-up attempt, but eventually he realizes that with her extreme mood swings, newly found love for smooth jazz, and slowly decomposing body, Beth has become a walking dead girlfriend.
Dane DeHaan, an actor who has proven his talent when it comes to playing dark and brooding characters, has a refreshingly new kind of role here that is both comedic and likable. Unfortunately, the material he has to work with isn’t the best. But DeHaan does what he can with it, and his effort is impressive regardless. His character is written in as a guy we don’t know much about despite him having the most screen time out of anyone. The only thing that defines him is Beth. He reacts to whatever is going on with her, but his character isn’t developed enough to be interesting unless she’s present in the scene as well.
Aubrey Plaza does a decent job of juggling the cutesy romantic and the gross, violent zombie sides of her character’s personality. She’s already mastered the dry humor, which has become her trademark in most, if not all, of her roles in movies and TV. That same dry humor is present here, and it fits perfectly in a zom-com. I have to say, it’s nice to actually see Aubrey Plaza smile for once, though. She has way more personality here through her sundress-wearing, boyfriend-loving, flesh-eating character than she does in most of the dull roles she gets stuck playing a lot of the time. It gives a glimpse into what she would be capable of if only given some better material.
Unfortunately, the other actors aren’t given much to do. Molly Shannon and John C. Reilly are strange, overbearing parents who don’t want to tell Beth that she died and would rather go on accepting without question the far-fetched idea that she’s been resurrected “like Jesus.” Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser, and Matthew Gray Gubler, who are very underwritten as members of Zach’s family, are comical in their few minutes of screen time, but that’s about the only purpose they serve to the story. Then we have a random cameo from an awkward, giggly Anna Kendrick, who I guess is supposed to be the cleaner and more alive option for Zach, as opposed to the slowly rotting corpse that is his current girlfriend.
There are certain parts of the story that aren’t explored much, like the reasoning for why zombies love attics and like to cake the walls in dirt, or why the transformation to a zombie is as slow as it is, or hell, why there are even zombies in the first place. Beth seems to be the first one that shows up, but then others start digging themselves up out of their graves as well, which makes it seem like she’s the one who started the whole zombie trend in the first place. But why or how? Who knows. I guess it doesn’t matter much here. I think we are supposed to just accept things without question, I mean, that’s what all the characters do in the movie.
It’s not all bad, though, there are some genuinely funny parts. I especially like Beth’s crazy mood swings and the way Zach reacts to them. The image towards the end of the movie of Zach and a full-fledged zombie Beth, who has a large, heavy stove strapped to her back, finally going on their hike together is just so weird and darkly funny. The fact that this crosses with what would seemingly be a defining, sentimental moment where Zach has to accept that Beth is not Beth anymore just makes this crazy scene all the more humorous.
Life After Beth succeeds in creating some genuine laughs in this wacky subgenre of zombie romantic comedy. The story overall isn’t that great, however, and it misuses the talent of a lot of the supporting characters. Dane DeHaan and Aubrey Plaza do well with what they’ve been given, but they could’ve done a lot more had their characters been better written. I’d say this is a fun rental at best, but not really worth going out of your way to see.