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Life After Beth review

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After 2004’s Shaun of the Dead, a new sub-genre was born: the ZomCom. Juan of the Dead; Zombieland; Warm Bodies; all of these movies have had their characters fighting – and sometimes loving – the undead horde that shuffles toward them. Life After Beth carries on much in the same tradition, but sadly doesn’t join the legacy of the great ZomComs; because put simply, this film just isn’t funny enough.

Dane DeHaan plays Zach, a guy who’s quite rightly down in the dumps after his girlfriend, Beth – played by Aubrey Plaza – has recently died thanks to a snake bite. He strikes up a new friendship with Beth’s dad Maury – another endlessly watchable turn from John C. Reilly – and in each other’s company, their loss hurts a little less. While watching the two chew the fat as they play chess would be a great movie in itself, things take a turn for the fantastical when Beth turns up at her old house in the middle of the night, having dug herself out of the grave and with no memory of her current deadness.

Although – understandably – he’s confused and conflicted to begin with, Zach soon learns to accept Beth’s return, and decides this is a second chance – to say all the things he should have said, and do all the things he should have done. In that respect, Life After Beth makes a great case for being the most thoughtful romance of the year; however, it never delves into such heavy, philosophical themes, because it wants to be a comedy instead. And that’s the problem: as we all know, the instant you try to be funny, the opposite often happens. Broad, glib jokes are fired at us on all cylinders, and even when the stakes are raised to near-apocalyptic levels toward the end of the movie, the tone shifts to something resembling an action survival picture, which doesn’t sit well with the rest of the film’s more stripped back, small American indie feel.

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This is writer and director Jeff Baena’s first feature, and he’s admittedly done a great job of getting good material from his cast. DeHaan plays desperate and dashing with a hilarious balance, while Plaza complements his craziness with some of her own; as Beth deteriorates both physically and psychologically, there’s a genuine nuance to her slow transformation – you always feel that she really does love Zach, even if she also wants to eat his brains. Also watch out for a scene-stealing performance from Matthew Gray Gubler as Zach’s gun-crazy brother Kyle, and Garry Marshall as Grandpa who makes an unexpected appearance at the family home and provides the movie’s biggest laughs. But take that away, and Life After Beth is nothing more than a funny sketch stretched to 89 minutes. Like a zombie, it seems to be alive – but there’s not much behind the eyes.

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