Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Pervasive Language, some Horror Violence, Sexual Content, Nudity and brief Drug Use
Directed by: Jeff Baena
Written by: Jeff Baena
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon & Anna Kendrick
Before diving right into my feelings about LIFE AFTER BETH, I must first give a brief bit of background information. 2014 is probably my last year of attending the Sundance film festival. This is mainly because I like to stick to the Salt Lake screenings and the festival atmosphere is getting a tad suffocating (scheduling and dealing with massive crowds). Anyway, LIFE AFTER BETH was a flick I was interested in seeing this past January at the fest, but I wound up choosing gritty crime thriller COLD IN JULY which screened at the exact same time as BETH. In the words of an old knight guarding a certain Holy Grail, I chose wisely. I’ve seen far more shitty zombie movies than I care to count (used to run a horror blog), but LIFE AFTER BETH is the very essence of a hipster flick. It’s into itself, has quirks that come off as annoying, and almost seems aimed for the “cool kids” who automatically like any film that’s ever played at Sundance. I assure you, not all of them are gems. LIFE AFTER BETH is all around awful.
Zach is a 20-something college student grieving over the loss of his recently deceased girlfriend Beth. After bonding with Beth’s parents, Zach suspects that not everything surrounding her death is to be believed. In an odd twist, it turns out that Beth has somehow been resurrected and her parents are keeping it under wraps. Desperate to make amends to their troubled relationship, Zach tries to rekindle the connection between himself and Beth. This is made difficult because she remembers nothing of her death and develops an unpredictable attitude (her temper can quickly turn bloodthirsty). Bad things happen and Zach must weigh his relationship with undead Beth against the world coming to an end around him from a rather stupid zombie apocalypse.
The main draw for LIFE AFTER BETH is a somewhat big name cast, bigger than usually expected for this type of movie. Dane DeHaan takes center stage as Zach, who starts as a decent enough character and then goes on a downward spiral of being a wuss complaining about every little thing around him. The situation he finds himself in is really bizarre, but DeHaan’s delivery made me wish that Zach would bite it in a painful way and disappear from the film by the end of the first act. Aubrey Plaza is Beth and her comedic sensibilities come off as very awkward. I can safely say that I never once laughed at any of her lines. Molly Shannon and John C. Reilly are underused as Beth’s parents, but got a few legitimate chuckles out of me. Then there’s Anna Kendrick. This capable young actress has proven herself to talented but some of her projects are iffy to say the least. LIFE AFTER BETH is one of these and she’s completely wasted as a background character.
Director/writer Jeff Baena mistakes randomness for all out humor. The reanimated zombies (there are many featured throughout, especially in the second half) like going to any nearby attic for no apparent reason and they also are soothed by jazz music. A couple of decent moments are present, mainly the family dynamic between Zach and his uncaring family in the first act. However, LIFE AFTER BETH never fully embraces that it’s a zombie-romantic-comedy. Instead, it tries to walk the line between being kind of horror-comedy and kind of independent romance and kind of dark humored drama. None of these elements blend well together, not the way Jeff Baena tells it. The film doesn’t know where to end either. I might have been satisfied if a scene 10 minutes prior to the actual ending had closed out the film. Instead, the viewer is treated to 10 more minutes of muddled and underwhelming writing that’s completely barren of a single laugh.
In 2013, WARM BODIES was released nationwide and turned out to be a pretty good flick. LIFE AFTER BETH feels like the hipster equivalent of someone watching that movie and saying to themselves “I can do this so much better with a smaller budget.” I might be completely wrong on that front, but that’s definitely the feeling I had by the end of LIFE AFTER BETH. It’s the zombie apocalypse for hipsters. BETH is a bad flick, but it’s also an easily forgettable one. If you do suffer through this, than you’re likely to have it erased from your mind in a matter of an hour. I suggest you skip this one.