Life After Beth
Superlative zombie dramedy starring Dane DeHaan, Aubrey Plaza, Anna Kendrick and John C Reilly
‘Imagine The Graduate, but with zombies.’ That seems to have been Jeff Baena’s brief for Life After Beth, a ‘zomromcom’ that couldn’t be further from the Shaun of the Dead vibe that label suggests. Dane DeHaan is expertly cast as Zach, a gothier version of Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock who spends his days moping by the family pool, selecting clothes from an all-black wardrobe and resisting his mother’s attempts to set him up with a nice young woman in the wake of his previous girlfriend’s death. Although, as it turns out, she might not be quite as dead as first thought.
The plot unfolds in a leftfield manner it’d be a shame to spoil here, so let’s just say things escalate and leave it at that. Baena has an incredible cast to work with, from DeHaan’s conflicted creep, Cheryl Hines and Paul Reiser as Zach’s overbearing parents, Matthew Gray Gubler as his psychotic brother Kyle, Anna Kendrick as the chirpy girl next door, and John C Reilly and Molly Shannon as the increasingly unhinged parents of the deceased. Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza holds back nothing in the title role of Beth, locating an incredible emotional range in a role that, on the surface, wouldn’t support it.
While some audiences may feel that the third act goes a bit overboard, Baena’s script expertly litters clues throughout the running time, and subtle nods to the film’s less-than-blockbuster budget (one particularly incredible-sounding explosion happens entirely off-camera, with only DeHaan’s muted reaction to register it) provide the odd meta-laugh as well. A film that succeeds in both its low key premise and extraordinary conclusion, Life After Beth deserves to walk again when revived for general release.
Screening at Cineworld, Edinburgh, Thu 26 Jun and Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Fri 27 Jun as part of Edinburgh International Film Festival 2014. General release from Fri 3 Oct.