What do you want from me, Zach? I’m a fucking zombie.” So blurts Aubrey Plaza’s Beth, after dying of a snake bite, and Jeff Baena’s directorial debut – the best zom-rom-com since Shaun Of The Dead – proving more interested in relationships and emotions than the gore or lore of Romero.
It starts with Dane DeHaan’s Zach grieving the loss of his titular girlfriend and gravitating to those who share his pain, her parents Maury and Geenie (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon). Zach and Beth were going through a rough patch, on the verge of breaking up, but their troubles simply add dollops of guilt and regret to the raw grief.
Then Beth miraculously returns home unaltered, bar an inexplicable love of attics and smooth jazz. Initially Zach clutches at the opportunity to put things right, but it’s not easy with Beth beginning to decompose, and her execrable breath is the least of their problems… Unresolved conflicts are resurrected, with Zach realising he’s perhaps more suited to childhood pal Erica (Anna Kendrick).
Playing like a comedy cousin to Anthony Minghella’s Truly, Madly, Deeply or an absurdist spin on hit TV show The Returned , Life After Beth is every bit as deranged as you might expect a directorial debut from the co-writer of I Heart Huckabees to be.
Baena splatters his movie with observations both astute and askance while favouring gags over gag-reflex, and scores a real coup in landing DeHaan and Plaza – the former shows he can match Huckabees ’ Mark Wahlberg in the play-it-straight-for-laughs stakes, and the latter’s just plain adorable however neurotic or necrotic she might be. Their chemistry alone assures this is everything that Warm Bodies wasn’t.
Keeping it personal, Baena’s movie nonetheless builds background details to capture a genuine sense of the apocalypse… a vision rendered oddly palatable by consistent chuckles and, naturally, a smooth-jazz soundtrack.