Life After Beth is the story of a girl, Beth played by Aubrey Plaza who dies from a snake bite and comes back to life but doesn’t know she’s dead. Her parents, John C. Reilly (Step Brothers,The Dewy Cox Story) and Molly Shannon (Saturday Night Live) don’t want Beth to know she died whereas her boyfriend, Zack played by overly intense Dane DeHaan thinks she should know the truth.
Beth’s father,is understandably thrilled to have Beth back and sees this as a resurrection, although one totally devoid of religion, which is nice for a change and at first tries to hide her from Zack. Once discovered by Zack, Beth’s parents are happy for Zack and Beth to start dating again but they have one rule; Beth must not leave the house.
For reasons unknown Zack seems to think this is totally unreasonable and fights to take Beth out for a drive. Zack seems to have forgotten that the entire town still thinks Beth is dead. It’s moments like these that feel out of place, reason has left the building.
The film continues as Beth and Zack struggle to come to terms with what’s happening to her, there is never any explanation for Beth’s return although by the end of the film a brief scene at the beginning of the film involving a man running very quickly up a deserted street suddenly made sense. Perhaps Beth’s family aren’t the only ones experiencing strange occurrences.
The film felt tonally uneven, switching from sincere to absurdity scene by scene and the overlapping of dialogue used to convey they chaos was overused and a bit irritating.
I should say, I’m not a fan of one trick pony Aubrey Plaza. Her deadpan delivery is her trademark and that’s fine and it was funny the first few times I saw her but it’s about time she showed there was more to her than her large eye rolling and snarky comments. Sadly, Life After Beth, written by Plaza’s boyfriend Jeff Baena doesn’t really give her enough time as the nice girl Beth to show us Plaza actually has more to her repertoire. Even when playing a ‘nice’ girl she still has a snarky attitude, that’s hard to hide.
Boyfriend Zack, whilst battling the very understandable grief of losing his girlfriend/ex-girlfriend is oddly intense,a little obsessive – which only grows throughout the film and to be honest not that likeable a character. His intensity is too much and feels at unease, at times I was unsure just who should be scared of whom.
Something I really liked about the film though was its take on zombie transformation. From the minute Beth returns she shows a few signs of not being ‘quite right’ staring off into space and is preoccupied with studying for a test that presumably she’s already taken as it’s summer but she doesn’t know that. Nor does she remember breaking up with boyfriend Zack before she died.
For some unidentified reason Beth has come back from the dead with an insatiable lust for sex, which is both a brave and odd choice. Few times are women allowed to show off their sexuality without being labeled by another character as a slut so it was refreshing to see a woman take control sexually and interestingly a role reversal when it comes to the inevitable horror cliche of sexual assault.
The way Beth struggles with what’s happening to her, as she starts to turn more and more unpredictable was refreshing. She doesn’t understand what’s happening to her and her confusion turns to violent mood swings. A sweet and romantic moment is ruined when for no apparent reason Beth takes unkindly to Zack’s beach serenade, she starts screaming and lashing out, breaking the beach hut stairway with one quick movement only seconds later to burst into tears and her vulnerability breaks through. A scared, confused girl. It’s moments like these where Plaza really excels in the film.
A special mention must go to Paul Reiser (Aliens) and Cheryl Hines (Curb your Enthusiasm) who were great as Zack’s unsympathetic parents and Zack’s brother Kyle played by Matthew Gray Gubler (500 Days of Summer, Criminal Minds) who is for the most part a total arsehole on a powertrip, he’s a security guard for the gated community they live in. A lot of comedy comes from these characters.
While on the outside Life After Beth is a comedy horror about a girl becoming a zombie but I picked up on some subtext on the fruitlessness of chasing after lost love.
When Zack believes Beth to be dead, he torments himself by thinking of all the things he never told her and when Beth comes back he uses this opportunity to say all those things, to make up for lost time but as we all know, once love is dead, there’s no going back.
I can see a horde of 500 Days of Summer fans lapping this up.
There is some good comedy in Life After Beth, from the use of smooth jazz soothing the savage beast and that Beth as a zombie has taken to living in the attic, a backward nod to the classic zombie trope ‘the attic is the safest place to hide’.
It’s gore light until the end of the film and that’s where some of the best laughs are.
If you like indie films and have a soft spot for zombies then this low budget production could be for you. I’m not sure I’d watch it again but despite the drawbacks I did enjoy the ride.
Life After Beth is out in cinemas now!