FrightFest film number two. I’d been hearing a lot of buzz about this one, and with the solid cast of comedy actors, how could I refuse?
Zach (Dane Dehaan) is going through a really tough time after the death of his long-time girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza). His band has split up, his parents don’t get him and his brother is a jerk. He’s working through his grief and getting to know his dead girlfriend’s parents a little better in the process. And then zombies happen. Specifically, Beth comes back to her parents’ house with no memory of having been dead. Zach is overjoyed, finally having the chance to do and say all the things he never got to do before, a second chance to make his and Beth’s relationship work. However, it becomes clear that things are now a little… off with Beth. Besides the memory loss and her new fixation on digging up dirt, she seems to be stronger and more prone to violence. As things spiral out of control and more dead rise from their graves, Zach has to deal with commitment issues to a girlfriend who could literally eat his face off.
The rom-zom-com is an odd little sub-genre, one that has never reached the heights that its inception of Shaun of the Dead managed. Whilst Life After Beth isn’t on that level, it does take the concept and apply it very nicely to the indie rom-com style of something like The Spectacular Now. Zach is an archetypal introspective indie movie lead; he has a wardrobe that consists entirely of black, he plays guitar, he’s a little quirky. And while Beth isn’t quite the dreaded Manic Pixie Dream Girl, she is still an ideal that he pines for. Even up until things start going to Hell, the film is shot like an indie movie, very naturalistic, and there’s the cutesy awkward style of dialogue when Zach reconnects with an old friend, Erica (an underused Anna Kendrick).
When the dead do turn up, however, that’s when the fun really begins. Plaza really gets her teeth into the role of Beth, bringing something to each of the stages of her zombie deterioration and you can see that she must have had a lot of fun here. Her relationship with Zach is also interesting, because they are sweet together and he clearly cares about her, but there is also a feeling that things aren’t like they were before, for good or bad, and that maybe this second chance isn’t what Zach really wants. He’s also a little worried that she might try to eat him.
The zombies of the film aren’t really from any specific rule set. They’re very much the walking dead, but they can talk and there’s no evidence of biting and passing on the infection. They also seem to be placated by the sounds of smooth jazz, which is definitely a new one. And the humour is more physical and absurd than you might be expecting, but there are good chuckles with some decent splatter moments. It’s all very much Garden State meets Braindead (aka Dead Alive), although maybe without the turned-up-to-eleven quality that the latter has, nor the kung-fu priest.
Life After Beth is a likeable comedy about letting go in life with some enjoyable horror thrown in. Double feature it with Warm Bodies, get some pizza, and you have yourself a perfect and gory zombie date night.
FrightFest ran from August 21-25 in London, England.