Life After Beth

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Zach has been trying to come to terms with the loss of the woman he loved, a task made all that harder when she comes back from the dead, unaware that she’s a zombie and ready to pick up where they left off.

You might find this hard to believe, but this is a situation that happens more times than you’d expect. One partner in a relationship gets attacked by a zombie, dies, comes back, and then tries to continue said relationship. It’s a pretty sad event to be honest since it doesn’t usually end well. The living partner either rejects the dead one outright which sends the newly zombified lover into a deep depression, or they’re accepted as a zombie and inevitably end up devouring their partner which also sends the newly zombified lover into a deep depression, so it’s a lose, lose situation either way. If the zombie gets dumped then at least the living member of that prior relationship gets to walk away, so it’s sad, but it’s not as sad as the zombie having to bury the person they loved because they couldn’t keep their munchies in check. See, it takes a while after reanimating before you learn to get a handle on your appetite, at first it’s all piranha like tearing into any living, breathing human that gets too close when your stomach starts to rumble. Eventually you learn to control it, not that you still won’t furiously tear into a human when you get hungry, you just learn to do it at more opportune moments, waiting till the time is right and you don’t have so many onlookers ready to put a foreign object through your skull. Once you’ve got the control down it’s not that big of a deal to be around people anymore, hell, I hang around with my still living friends, go to gatherings among still living family members, and even date a still living woman. It’s just that first adjustment period that you want to stay away from anyone you don’t want to eat, this includes former lovers you were involved with before zombification. Should you choose to ignore that warning, the consequences are all your own, and lord help you if you don’t eat enough of them to keep the person from coming back themselves. You’ll be lucky if they just kill you, but most likely you’re about to find out just how much abuse a zombie’s body can take. I shudder at the thought.

Our film begins with the death of a young woman named Beth, well not so much her death as her funeral where her boyfriend Zach is mourning the loss. Later that night Zach goes to visit Beth’s parents Maury (played by funnyman John C. Reilly) and Geenie (played by Molly Shannon). After a little weed and some chess, Zach opens up to Maury, admitting that him and Beth had been having problems before her death. The two commiserate a bit more before Zach heads home, despondent as ever but at least happy that he can maintain a relationship with Beth’s parents. That happiness turns to worry over the next few days as Zach begins having some difficulty getting ahold of ether Maury or Geenie, and it seems as if they are avoiding him. He does everything in his power to contact them, leaving voicemails and making trips to their house, both of which yield no results, that is until one day when he catches a glimpse of Beth in the window of her parent’s home. He understandably goes berserk, nearly breaking down the door to get inside to see her, but is taken away by his security guard brother who works for the private community. Later that night he makes a second attempt, this time barging inside before they can shut him out, finding Beth alive and well, sort of alive anyway. Shortly after Zach and Maury’s chess game, once Zach had made his way home, Beth showed up at the door. She had dug her way out of the grave and walked home where Maury and Geenie were so shocked they decided to hide her return. Zach is overjoyed to have her back, slightly concerned that she doesn’t remember anything past a couple of weeks prior to her death but caring only that his girlfriend has come back to him. Beth doesn’t seem to be herself though, she’s got a new angry streak that is making her act both aggressively and irrationally. Zach tries to ignore it, but as the days wear on Beth only gets worse, and stranger yet, people Zach could swear died years ago are suddenly reappearing, themselves acting just as irrationally as his girlfriend. If Zach expects to continue his relationship with his zombified girlfriend he’s going to have discover what’s brought her back in the first place, otherwise he might be joining her in death.

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{She does not look like a happy zombie}

I seem to be running into a lot more zombie love stories than I realized were out there. Not that I’ve never seen love in a zombie film before, in fact it’s quite frequent that you see two characters fall in love within the time span of a zombie film. From Ana and Michael in the Dawn of the Dead remake to Columbus and Wichita in Zombieland falling in love at the end of the world, an apocalyptic scenario apparently being just the catalyst certain people need before they’ll find true love. I guess it does make a certain amount of sense if you think about it, two people thrust into an extremely stressful situation, especially one in which not much of humanity survived, would probably grow a strong bond with each other. Would it be love though? I don’t think so, at least not in the romantic sense. In the sense that the chemical that causes humans to bond with each other so that the species can procreate sure, but most certainly not in a romantic way. Of course that’s just my two cents on the matter, some people only view love as a basic element of human evolution that keeps us from going extinct as a species in that humans have evolved a complex social structure that now requires even more complex relationships, love being a central function of making those relationships work. I tend to lean more towards the romantic side of love, myself being a bit more sentimental, so when I watch a zombie movie and two people fall madly and deeply in love after slaying the undead for a couple days I can’t relate to them much, lessening any emotional attachment that I might have had otherwise. That’s why I like the idea of romantic zombie flicks, RomZoms maybe, because the sentimental sap inside of me can be placated, and I still get to watch a zombie movie. Unfortunately, much of what I’ve found has been in the same boat as any romantic movie, two “star crossed” lovers meet and a deep romance is formed in only a short time. I’ll hand it to some, they’ve tried to at least give a reason for this, like Warm Bodies where R falls in love with Julie because he ate her boyfriend’s brain, and one or two had couples in it that had been in love for a while, the zombie apocalypse coming about after their bond had already formed, but most fall into the same formula as any other romance. With that in mind I sat down to watch Life After Beth, mainly because John C. Reilly was in it. I was hopeful for a romantic zombie flick I could get into but not overly expectant. Thankfully Life After Beth not only met my expectations, it actually managed to exceed them with a romance that not only dealt with a young couple that had been in love for a while, but used the zombie as a metaphor for loss and how difficult it can be to move on with your life once someone you loved has been taken from you.

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{True love means never having to wipe your mouth}

The film’s use of the zombie genre to represent how hard it is to get past the loss of someone close to you was well played, and it was on point with loss in several aspects when it comes to missing someone you cared about. Though Life After Beth tells the story of the death of a significant other, the film’s message could pertain to the death of a friend, a relative, or even a pet. It doesn’t matter the person, or animal, it really doesn’t matter if they’ve died or if they’ve simply left you, what matters is that they are gone from you and you will never be able to have them in your life again. That’s the loss Life After Beth speaks to. Zach is understandably depressed after the passing of Beth, he loved her and can’t imagine a life without her, no matter how hard he tries. It seems nearly impossible for him to move on with his life, to the point he almost doesn’t bother to even try and move on. He always wants to either be with Beth’s parents or at the very least talking to him, he spends hours staring out into nothingness, lost in his thoughts for her, and he wears a scarf she owned that he can’t let go of, a scarf he actually has sex with at one point. Then, in the midst of his refusal to let her go, Beth returns to him, fulfilling what he thought was his dream, only the dream is always better than the reality. Many times when you lose someone you tend to forget the bad, the good things about them being the only thing that comes to the forefront of your mind. That’s how it works with Beth, the woman the comes back to Zach isn’t the woman he remembers, and though here it might be more zombification screwing with Beth’s mind, it still makes sense within the context of the metaphor Life After Beth is trying to express.

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{That scarf is the most scarred thing in this entire movie}

Don’t think that the movie is all seriousness though. While a romance, Life After Beth is at it’s a heart a dark comedy with some genuinely funny moments. It’s not laugh out loud mind you because it’s not supposed to be. The humor is subtle and just under the surface, most of the time. There are some ridiculous scenes that are both uncomfortable and hilarious. Scenes like the already mentioned part where Zach begins to hump his dead girlfriend’s scarf. It is funny, but you kind of uncomfortably laugh to it. Another scene has Beth fairly far advanced as a zombie, having already gotten to the point where she’s begun to consume living human flesh, and tied up to a stove. Beth struggles to bring her thoughts together, having trouble understanding why she’s strapped to a stove and immobilized, not appearing to grasp that she has just fucking eaten people. It was actually kind of funny, yet it was also extremely sad and laughing at said sadness is what made this yet another uncomfortable scene. Thankfully, any discomfort is offset by the hilarity that is the team up of John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon playing Beth’s parents. Both are incredibly funny on their own, but paired up together they are perfect, giving the film a dry sense of humor as they tone down some of their usual outrageousness for roles that required a bit more subtlety.

{You can not beat having these two together}

It wasn’t just Reilly and Shannon that were great fits for Life After Beth though. Dane DeHaan, who I thought did a great job in Chronicle, plays mourning boyfriend Zach. He comes across as so pitiful in his despair over Beth that you couldn’t help but feel sorry for the guy, but the real star of this film is Beth herself, played by Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza. I have to admit to only ever seeing her myself as Julie Powers in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, though I’ve heard Parks and Recreation is absolutely hilarious, I’ve never seen it myself, but I did watch Scott Pilgrim four or five times before it’d even left the theatre, so that’s where I instantly recognized her from. Her costar from Scott Pilgrim, Anna Kendrick, has a minor role in Life After Beth as well, influencing me to go pop that one in the DVD player as soon as Life After Beth was over. Plaza does an amazing job as the undead Beth, switching seamlessly between Beth’s more lucid and confused moments as she struggles to maintain control over her faculties while her mind slips further and further into turmoil. At times she is completely calm, seeming like just another young woman in love, but in a heartbeat she will switch to an anger that borders on psychotic, only to switch right back to calm, completely confused at what has just happened to her. What was even more impressive was how well she did playing a zombie. Life After Beth isn’t an effects heavy film, using very minimal makeup to portray the undead, some blood here, a bad rash there, occasionally some skin peeling, but not much else. She still managed to get across to the viewer how inhuman she was with her zombielike mannerisms that seemed caught in between a living human and something not so much alive.

{This is a bit funnier when you actually watch it…kind of}

Life After Beth was an interesting take on the zombie film, one I very much enjoyed. It had much more to it than the standard zombie movie, and I’d easily recommend giving it a watch whenever you get the chance.

 

The Undead Review

 

Directed By: Jeff Baena

Starring: Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), Dane DeHaan (The Amazing Spiderman 2, Chronicle), John C. Reilly (Wreck-It Ralph, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby), Molly Shannon (Superstar, Hotel Transylvania), and Matthew Gray Gubler (Criminal Minds, How to Be a Serial Killer)

Written By: Jeff Baena (I Heart Huckabees)

Released By: Abbolita Productions, American Zoetrope, Destro Films, and Starstream Entertainment

Release Year: 2014

Release Type: Theatrical Release

MPAA Rating: Rated R

Rotten Heads: Five Head Out of Five

About The Undead Review

When I was alive I was an asshole and after I died remained pretty much the same, if not a little worse. You’d think becoming a member of the walking dead would mellow a person out, no more worrying about awkward small talk with people, no more having to be politically correct, and the entire world is your upright, bipedal buffet. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun as hell to be a zombie, just somewhat irritating at times, especially those times you have to watch a lame movie or read a lame book. Thankfully, when I am forced to watch these films or read those books, I’ve got places like The Undead Review to bitch and moan to my heart’s content. {When he’s not devouring the living or sinking his teeth into a good film The Undead Review (Andy Taylor) spends his time writing his own stories or hunting down the paranormal. Oh, and did we mention his blind dog once saved the world?)
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