Life After Beth sounds like a dream to a cinema-goer fond of romantic comedies starring good-looking young people and zombies. Starring Dane De Haan, everyone’s favourite up and coming pale young man, and the incomparable Aubrey Plaza, this promising-sounding film’s rambling, overstretched and surreal plotline sadly lets down the decent cast.
Beth (Aubrey Plaza) is seen alive for less than one minute on screen, before the action switches to her grieving boyfriend, Zach (Dane De Haan). He mourns, bizarrely unsupported by his family. The director means to convey isolation, but it’s questionable that a family could be that cold regarding the sudden loss of a girlfriend. Zach finds solace in Beth’s parents, played by John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon, until suddenly they cut him off, too. Lonely and devastated, Zach begins to “see” Beth – and that’s when our life after death story kicks into gear. Beth is back – Zach is ecstatic. But she isn’t the same girl – now she listens to smooth jazz, and wants to spend all her time making out in attics, or studying for a test. These elements of Life After Beth are massively intriguing, but sadly, writer-director Jeff Baena doesn’t capitalise on them. What was the test? Why smooth jazz? The plot holes in this one are teeth-grindingly frustrating.
What starts off as a romantic comedy with a weird twist rapidly becomes a horror film. As Beth’s body rots away, so does any redeeming qualities of the film and it goes downhill very fast. A few amusing moments occur throughout the final act, but on the whole it’s lethargic, messy and – dare I say it? – boring. The pacing is all wrong – it’s going for offbeat and quirky, but it just feels forced. A frantic Matthew Gray Gubler provides some lightness in the final act as Zach’s gun-obsessed brother, but aside from that there’s little to chew on as soon as the zombies arrive.
It’s a shame that Life After Beth is so messy, because it really detracts from how good Plaza is in the central role. Usually seen in deadpan rolesin Parks and Recreation and in last year’s The To-Do List, she shows her ability as an actress as Beth. She’s cute, horrifying, sexy and funny in equal measure, often at the same time. Aspects of Life After Beth that are enjoyable include how self-aware it is; the tagline of the film, “Some girls just want to watch the world burn” makes little sense in context, though. The neat references to Parks and Recreation are subtle enough to be enjoyable, sparking interest when there is little to watch. Dane De Haan is good, too – but his character is given a pale imitation of depth, rotating around Beth and ultimately, becoming part of the background of the unexplained zombie invasion.
On the whole, Life After Beth is not a terrible film – it’s a dull one. Where Plaza and De Haan shine, they are shot down by plot holes and cringeworthy dialogue. Their performances are great, it’s just a shame they weren’t given better material to work with. Life After Beth is ultimately a disappointment to those of us who hope for a better kind of zombie comedy, who should just go and watch Shaun of the Dead again.