Monday, November 3, 2014

Film Review: Life after Beth

Copyright: A24
There is an emerging trend that offers a new incarnation of the horror comedy genre. Unlike its last versions from the late 80’s, where much focus was placed on slapstick and gore, the new films present a weird social enclosure in which the focus of the characters remains almost untouched by the events of the film, no matter how bloody or strange they become. These films present their own version of the reality where things like complex explanations of trivial occurrences or personal awkwardness remain relevant for the characters even while a horde of zombies bang on their door.

Summer of Blood is a perfect recent example of this notion, while some of it can be seen in films like This is the End and John Dies at the End. But Life after Beth is simply soaking in it, and thanks to it, the film provides a hilarious experience which only intensifies as the plot progresses.

In the film, a young man named Zach is devastated by the accidental death of his beloved girlfriend Beth. He tries to find some consolation with her laid back parents, until he notices that Beth is back at their home. He confronts all three; while Beth seems unaware of her resurrection; both her mother and father are bent on keeping this appearance of their daughter hidden, and demand that Zach plays along. He accepts, realizing that something much bigger and stranger is happening around them. Still, he remains oriented towards his relationship with the decomposing Beth.

There are so many fantastic comedic moments in this film that it is impossible to mention them all. The humor in Life after Beth includes situations of pointless and extremely unpleasant social interaction that look like they came straight from an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm (along with the actress Cheryl Hines who also plays in the film). In other times, the film’s director Jeff Baena just stacks up characters and elements to a scene until it’s so preposterous that you can’t do anything but laugh.

His cast was chosen wisely, which means that everyone was up to the task when it comes to comedy. John C. Reilly is expectedly awesome as Beth’s dad who struggles to maintain some control, but the cast member who completely stole the show was Aubrey Plaza as the main corpse in the film. In the movie, Plaza alternates through many emotional states, often random, but was also ready to mix it up with some screaming and other equally visceral elements.

For a debut, Baena made a great film that really boldly stands on its own. Wisely, he steered clear of zombi apocalypse/romance reimagining plots like one in the film Warm Bodies. To watch Life after Beth is like queuing in line and listening to an older couple arguing in detail about their sex life and hearing how it includes a young Mexican wrestler, some fishing rods and a World of Warcraft gaming session. It might not come close to reality, but it is definitely an immensely fun experience.