LIFE AFTER BETH

4

Director: Jeff Baena; Screenwriter: Jeff Baena; Starring: Dane DeHaan, Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser, Anna Kendrick; Running time: 89 minutes; Certification: 15 }

There’s a residual saturation of zombie movies in the market following the boom of Zack Snyder’s decidedly decent remake of Dawn Of The Dead.  While the previous year has certainly seen fewer of them (Warm Bodies and World War Z are the only two that spring to mind), the genre is by no means dead and buried.  The question is how can you sit down and write a new zombie movie without completely treading on old ground?  Writer/director Jeff Baena has certainly given it a good crack, and come out the other side with something of an answer.  Life After Beth, while not entirely original, has a distinct air of freshness about it, playing out like a film that doesn’t care whether there hadn’t been another zombie movie made in the last twenty years, or there were three others out this week.

The premise of Baena’s quirky rom-zom-com asks us what do you do if you see your recently deceased partner walking around as if nothing had happened?  Do you panic?  Do you run and hide?  Do you think it’s a conspiracy?  Do you think they’re a zombie?  Dane DeHaan’s Zach faces such questions after spotting his girlfriend, Beth (Plaza), drifting around her parent’s house the day after her funeral.  As he prods and pries to get in touch with her at the firm resistance of her father (Reilly), Zach soon discovers that, just perhaps, against all his convictions, she has actually risen from the dead.  Naturally, her behaviour begins to shift from just a little queer to bat-shit crazy, in a set-up with the potential to yield brilliant results.

And those results are delivered, in no small part thanks to the two terrific leads.  Dane DeHaan, if he isn’t already, is fast becoming a star as he continues to excel in every project, while Aubrey Plaza just goes from strength to strength.  The Parks & Rec star has the most brilliantly moody eyes and offsetting yet cute presence, where she can somehow make you flinch and laugh at the same time.  Baena’s minimalist, Pet Sematary-vibed script gives the actors freedom to play around with their roles and presumably improvise a little, while allowing the story to play out in such a way that doesn’t encroach on too many zombie cliches.  It is, after all, a film more about the living people than the dead ones.

More surprising than anything is how laugh out loud funny the film is throughout.  A Shaun Of The Dead doesn’t come around ever week: comedy-horror is tough to get just right, but Baena, with the help of his terrific cast, does a pretty decent job of it.  While perhaps not quite on a level with either Shaun Of The Dead or Zombieland, Life After Beth does more than enough to earn itself a place among them.

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