The rom-zom-com has been a small but integral part of the zombie revival, with plenty of horror “comedies” forgetting that it was Shaun’s relationship with Liz that gave Shaun Of The Dead its heart. Jeff Baena’s Life After Beth blends its zombie gags with a spiky love story to create a winning dark comedy.
Zach (Dane DeHaan) is bereft after his girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza) dies. Struggling to cope, he clings to anything that reminds him of his lost love, but on a visit to her parents’ house he gets a glimpse of her. He soon learns that Beth didn’t fake her death; she died and came back. Is this a miracle, or the start of something more horrifying?
A quick glance at Life After Beth’s cast list is enough to reassure you that there’s more to the film than it’s clever title. With John C Reilly, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser, Matthew Gray Gubler and Anna Kendrick offering support, there’s enough indie and comedy credibility here alone to merit a watch.
DeHaan follows his turn as The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s Harry Osborne with an impressive turn as a romantic lead, unafraid to play up Zach’s neediness and naïveté in the face of something obviously very wrong.
As good as the cast is, though, Life After Beth is very much the Aubrey Plaza show. As Zach goes through his mourning period (oddly reminiscent of Benjamin Braddock’s listlessness in The Graduate), we’re waiting for her to show up and she doesn’t disappoint when she does. The Parks and Recreation star is simply fantastic, nailing moments of throwaway weirdness (including a newfound love of attics and mud) and Beth’s sudden mood changes.
She fully commits to her (often violent) transformation, making the character a force of nature without losing her humanity. As hilarious as Beth’s monstrosity is, Baena is careful not to lose sight of that.
The film’s final third does take a surprisingly dark turn but it all feels consistent. There are one or two niggles here and there (Kendrick feels wasted as the girl that Zach should obviously be with) but this is a sharp zom-com with some real surprises and an outstanding performance from Plaza.