Celebrating Valentine Day’s as you do, with one of the most notable movies in the “zombie romance” subgenre that isn’t Warm Bodies.
(BTW, yes, i knew about Vlad Love, i’m gonna cover it in some way, but it finally started airing just today, so i would have never had a review for it ready by now)
You might be led to think this is a rip-off of that, as in the roles happen to be switched (the girl is the zombie one), but… don’t, because the 2010’s didn’t invent zombie romance (there was a musical-romcom about zombies in 2007, called “Zombie Love”), heck, we had Teenage Zombies back in 1959… but then again that movie was fuckin terrible and didn’t actually feature teenage zombies, so at the very least these modern romantic comedies about zombies got that.
Getting back on topic, the plot is about what you’d expect from the basic premise of “zombie love”, more or less.
After his girlfriend Beth dies, Zach (Dane DeHaan) goes to visit her parents regularly to find some comfort, but even if understanding, they suggest to avoid turning this into an obsession, and eventually stop seeing him entirely. Still, he goes to their house and one day sees Beth (Aubrey Plaza) in the window, learns that she literally came back to life (for unknown reasons) and their parents have been hiding her, due to her violent behaviour, but Zach manages to keep seeing her in secret and continue their relationship, even as other people in town start showing up with the same symptoms…
One of the main criticisms i’ve heard it’s that it feels like a sketch or a short film stretched into a feature lenght….and i really can’t say i disagree, as it feels longer than it should, even if it’s not really that long, under 90 minutes actually.
While some short films make one think they would benefit from a longer runtime, Life After Beth stands at the polar opposite, with a good idea for a zombie horror comedy that doesn’t have much in the way of legs, the script does try to flesh out the concept in order to suit a full length feature, but it doesn’t really proper expand the core idea, and the whole zombie apocalypse is ultimately just kinda there. Zombie apocalypse stories don’t necessarily need to tell how or why exactly they started, as it often not that interesting anyway, but despite being kinda important, here it’s mostly irrilevant until the third act, and even so it’s almost treated as an ancillary sub-plot that the script basically throws away when it outlives its usefulness for jokes.
This doesn’t make the movie excruciating or without purpose, i quite enjoyed it and it delivers, it’s funny (not gutbusting laughter, but still funny and well written), it has likeable and charming characters, great casting, good performances (especially Aubrey Plaza as the living impaired psycho girlfriend and DaneDeHaan as the caring but obsessed & slightly creepy grieving boyfriend), even the zombie make-up is decent-to-good, not a given considering its obvious focus on romantic comedy more than horror.
There is a lot to like here, but regardles… simply there isn’t enough plot to fully sustain the concept, with sub-plots that are mostly there to lenghten the narrative, even leading to some quirky and funny exchanges, but not really moving the main plot thread along, so it’s hard not to notice how some scenes just feel kinda sketchily sawn together, often just detours to pad out the runtime without really developing that much the characters, in a movie that hasn’t exactly that much plot just lying around to liberally waste it on some gags or sketches, and isn’t THAT funny to make you fully overlook the issue.
It’s a flawed movie, but i still say it’s a decent watch, and worth checking out at least once, thanks to the great cast, good performances, funny writing and solid direction by Jeff Baena, it’s possible to still enjoy the movie without being really bothered by its own big bad, nearly fatal flaw.
Even if it may still feel a bit frustrating, as you can see the potential for an even better movie, one than never has the chance to bloom due to plot (and some of its ideas) being stretched quite thin. Still, i wanna stress it’s worth a punt. It is.