Is there life after death? More importantly, is their life during TIFF for an indie that struggles to refresh the overworked zombie genre?
The timing couldn’t be worse to release I Heart Huckabees co-writer Jeff Baena’s directing debut, Life After Beth, on Sept. 5, what with that other movie thing going on in Toronto that’s turning the lives of film writers into Days and Nights of the Living Dead.
While Life After Beth may have some juice beyond the cinema thanks to also going VOD the same day, it’s also very late to the zombie party, an overworked genre that I’m frankly bored to death with.
Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza stars as Beth, a college student who doesn’t realize she’s died. Dane DeHaan (Kill Your Darlings, The Amazing Spider-Man 2) is Zach, the morose boyfriend who can’t believe he’s getting a second chance with his recently departed gal.
John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon are quite good as Beth’s parents, trying to hide the fact their dead daughter is back home from the grieving Zach. Once the cat’s out of the bag, Baena’s take on whether a dead girl and a living boy can find love goes to some interesting places, although not unfamiliar ones.
It’s not a new idea: take 2013’s Warm Bodies and the once TIFF-bound Maggie, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and now acquired by Lionsgate for 2015 release.
While Baena tries to offer a reworking of zombie mythology — easy-listening music makes them horny and they have a fascination with attics and smearing dirt on walls — the movie doesn’t live up to the promise of its dark start.
Still, Plaza is wholly engaging as Beth, oblivious to her undead reality, her face fixed in prom queen smile. It’s especially entertaining when she’s chained to a kitchen appliance, dealing with her situation in matter-of-fact zombie fashion.
DeHaan, who we’re used to seeing in sombre roles, handles straight man duties with a bit too much devotion to his character’s drippy side.
As the once-sweet Beth ends up turning into a furious, superstrong harpie, Zach starts to realize a universal truth about rekindling a dead romance. Maybe getting his girlfriend back wasn’t such a good idea after all.