Life After Beth: Review – Sundance 2014

Zombies are hot. Well, I don’t mean attractive necessarily, unless maybe you are Beth Slocum (Aubrey Plaza – Parks and Recreation and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) in writer/director Jeff Baena’s new comedy Life After Beth, a laugh-out-loud-star-studded comedy that had it’s world premiere at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

I knew Baena had assembled a great cast prior to taking my seat: Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Paul Reiser, Cheryl Hines, Anna Kendrick, and Matthew Gray Gubler to name a few. And thanks to some marketing and publicity production stills, I was prepared to see Aubrey’s character Beth staked in the heart and chained to a stove as his loving boyfriend Zach Orfman (Dane DeHaan – In Treatment, The Place Beyond the Pines) looks on with concern. So needless to say, I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into. My hope was that Baena would deliver something refreshing and new, and not surprisingly, Life After Beth does not disappoint.

The film opens with Zach, completely devastated during the wake of his girlfriend, Beth, who has unexpectedly died from a lethal snakebite while hiking. Zach is shattered by his loss; however, when Zach discovers that Beth has risen from the dead, he sees this as a second chance to say and do all the things (like hiking) he wished he had while she was still alive. But Beth has no memory of dying, and her parents, Maury (John C. Reilly – Wreck-It Ralph, Step Brothers, Magnolia) and Geenie (Molly Shannon – Hotel Transylvania, Saturday Night Live) force themselves to believe that she is resurrected – maybe like Jesus – but Zach quickly concludes something much more sinister is at work: Beth is turning into a zombie.

As Beth begins to morph from sweet girlfriend and daughter to violent nymphomaniac with a obsession for smearing mud in the attic and listening to smooth jazz, the world as they know it begins to crumble: Beth is not the only undead.

Being a horror fan and zombie fanatic myself, I was curious how Baena would handle the classic tropes of zombie lore, from the shuffling, cannibal undead to the killing technique of destroying the brain, two standard zombie rules laid down from the “Father of Zombie Films” himself: George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead). Yet, knowing this was a comedy, I was also looking for how Life After Beth would compare to the zombie-comedy sub-genre with such hits as Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland.

Baena does a fine job in paying homage to both the old and the new while still bringing a fresh take to the zombie-comedy genre, delivering a film that is both smart and funny, but it’s the source material (Baena’s script) and a tremendous ensemble cast that really brings it to life.  Overall, Life After Beth is a great time at the movies. You’ll be smiling – and laughing – throughout the whole ridiculous ride.