Writer: Jeff Baena
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, John C. Reilly, Paul Reiser, Cheryl Hines, Matthew Gray Gubler, Anna Kendrick, Molly Shannon
Running time: 91mins
The lowdown: The “ambulant deceased” genre gets a (love) heart transplant in Jeff Baena’s gruesome romzomcom starring soon-to-be-hot Dane DeHaan and Aubrey Plaza. She is Beth, recently dead from a snakebite. He is Zach, her grieving boyfriend who wonders why Beth’s family have suddenly shut him out. And realises it is because his expired amour may not be as gone as he first thought. Indie filmmaking is wed to zombie traits in a perfect double bill movie with Shaun of the Dead.
The full verdict: Best known as cuddly goth April in Parks & Recreation, Aubrey Plaza’s two-parts Buster Keaton, one part Sean Young persona is put to good use in Life After Beth.
Breathing life into writer/director Baena’s witty, clever script, she’s a knockout whether destroying property with superhuman strength, eating to satisfy an oddly endless hunger, or chilling out to smooth jazz (zombies’ music genre of choice it transpires).
Moving centre stage an idea briefly hinted at in the opening of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and occasionally dropped into other zombie movies (and The Walking Dead), Life After Beth asks the question, couldn’t a loved one returning from the grave actually be a good thing?
As Beth’s dad (the never-less-than-wonderful John C. Reilly) excitedly explains once Zach has forced his way into the family home, they can now tell her all the things they didn’t before and mom (Shannon) can take those photos she never got round to.
Baena does not so much play fast and loose with zombie lore as take the general notion and fashion a sweet love story around it.
Therefore, Beth is merely amnesiac when returning from beyond (although that snakebite looks nastily infected) and after a little al fresco naughtiness a rash on her face seems reluctant to heal.
And “Be careful what you wish for” goes to a violent extreme as she becomes the ultra-attentive girlfriend, insanely so when a rival for Zach’s attention (a cameo’ing Anna Kendrick) shows up.
Baena opens with short, choppy scenes that convey Zach’s shattered grief, remind everyone he co-wrote the David O. Russell marmite movie I Heart Huckabees and risk turning off the audience.
But, patience is rewarded, particularly as events spiral out of control in typical zombie fashion and the director proves he’s not shy laying on the horror friendly splatter.
DeHaan is a perfectly exasperated audience anchor, while the supporting cast of likeable comedy faces, including Paul Reiser and Cheryl Hines as Zach’s disbelieving parents, add a lightness of touch as reality starts to really bite.
The show is almost stolen by Matthew Gray Gubler as Zach’s security guard brother, tightly wired and aching to use his Desert Eagle on zombie cranium.
Endearing and left-of-field, expect it to inspire an army of Beths at a cosplay convention near you soon.