Life After Beth
As most of my close friends can attest, I have never been reluctant to share my feelings regarding the overly emotional plot devices in creature features. The monsters that were once utilized in the films we enjoyed as kids were meant to scare us, occasionally to the point of dropping out candy joining it with both the already sticky layer that coated the floors of most neighborhood theaters. Werewolves, zombies, vampires and creatures, together with an eclectic selection of different courses are not acceptable dating pools. For some new filmmakers are rebelling against this trend by going old school with the use of monsters there are others who choose mock it. Employing a variation of reductio ad absurdum, allowing the audience to hopefully appreciate how ludicrous idea romantic monster actually is. Actually, I enjoyed both means of protest. In their own fashion, each fashion forces the audience to face the fact that a monster who is extensively a serial killer is not one who was conducive to picking out China pattern with. To paraphrase a well-known sentiment as expressed by Stephen Sondheim, “forget that boy and find another. A boy like will eat your brother, stick to your own kind.”
There is a positive side is for those of us with daughters; in a month or so mine will be bringing her fiancé out to New Jersey to meet me of fiancé. Considering he’s already been through the naval training. I am hopeful that even the currently revised criteria have retained the pre-requisite being alive. This allows me to be reasonably certain my daughter has not fallen for one of the undead. I suppose I should be thankful for the little things. With a recent flick I’ve been provided for consideration is a whimsical and little dark comedy called ‘Life after Beth.’ What initially caught my eye piquing my curiosity to the point of wanting to review it was the cast of this film. Some of my favorite character actors are present in this film, running the gamut from Molly Shannon, John C O’Reilly and Cheryl Hines. As if this wasn’t sufficient a more eclectic group of actors was brought into filled out the roles; Paul Reiser, Anna Kendrick, Matthew Gray Gubler, and as the titular Beth one of the current queens of independent cinema, Aubrey Plaza. The film was written and directed by a burgeoning filmmaker, Jeff Baena, whose previous opus, ‘I Heart Huckabees, was an incredibly casted and marvelously executed jaunt off the path of reality. Was very anxious to see what he would do with such a bizarrely incredulous theme. Simply put, Beth is dead but somehow still walking around unaware of her present condition. Her parents are doing everything possible to protect their daughter from this harsh reality.
Beth Slocum (Aubrey Plaza) and her boyfriend, Zach Orfman (Dane DeHaan), were ostensibly a young couple in love. That is, in until one day while on a hike, Beth was bitten by a snake and subsequently died. Under normal circumstances that would be the end of the story, but this is not quite what you would say exist in the realm of normality. Devastated by bets passing, Zach began spending increasing amounts of time bets parents, Maury (John C. Reilly) and Slocum (Molly Shannon). Zach. Initially we just seeking some modicum of solace, feeling connected to Beth by being in proximity to her home and her parents. One afternoon, while getting high and playing chess with Maury, to activities not known to go well together, Zach comes to a realization that there were problems in his relationship with that in part, his unwillingness to participate in activities that Beth wanted to do. Suddenly and Maury and Geenie stop answering the door and refused to pick up the phone. Confused and devastated, Zach begins to watch the house. While peering in a window, he is certain that he sees Beth moving around inside. Trying to break in to the home is thwarted when the Slocum’s call the security company, which consists of Zach’s older brother Kyle (Matthew Gray Gubler). Still brief stricken, Zach goes to Beth’s grave. To his horror, he finds a hole at the site. As it turns out, that has been hidden by her parents. Since her mysterious resurrection from death brought her back to life, well, sort of, that has been exhibiting certain changes. Her very protective parents have been careful to keep it hidden from everybody, especially Zach. Now that he knows the secret things are going to get quite confusing in that household.
Initially, Zach is felt so elated to be reunited with Beth that he was easily duped by the gossamer ruse her parents are perpetrating concealing the fact that their daughter is now considered one of the vitality challenged Americans, the undead or in common parlance, a zombie. There is no attempt made to explain her sudden revitalization and quite frankly Beth’s parents are just so happy to have your daughter back in okay why or how. That may have returned, but she is not quite the same person as before her death. She is prone to some very odd and erratic mood swings running the gamut from being quite docile and compliant to fits of rage resulting in how destroying Zach’s guitar or burning down lifeguard tower at the beach. Gradually however, others begin to return from the dead in much the same mysterious fashion as Beth. By these additional resurrections occur mostly in the background, they do add to the overall texture of the film. The focus remains scented on the relationship between Zach and Beth. The common phrase “till death do you part” seems to have found an exception with this couple.
For the most part, the zombie film has been exempt from the trend to overly romanticized monster movies. Of course, this theme has been attempted before in such independent flicks as ‘Boy Eats Girl’, or more recently, ‘Warm Bodies’. After getting the film a second viewing anything come to the conclusion that Mr. Baena, has missed the mark in a few technical areas. His prior work, ‘I Heart Huckabees ‘, was a decade ago, and that was only serving as a screenwriter. This is his freshman opus sitting in the director’s chair, and that should be taken into account. This man has the inherent talent manifested with a keen eye towards iconoclastic dock comedies. This forte desktop appears to lie in twisting and established genre, whether it is spoofing the husband-and-wife detective team, all in this case the love story creature feature. What many people may find troublesome about this movie is that it’s playing exceptionally understated in both the script and the direction. Baena could have easily gone over the top providing a very broad comedy such as was so delightfully accomplished in, ‘Shawn of the Living Dead’. The boisterous approach worked in that instance because of the setting of a typical British pub. By setting the story in a middle-class American suburb, understated with precisely the way to go. Those living in such bedroom communities expect only the expected. Traditionally, their ability to handle something outside the bylaws of the homeowners association is not easily managed. Or family faced with the dilemma, of having an undead daughter, which isolate them from their neighbors; a fate worse than death for such community. Although Zach is prohibited by the father from taking his daughter out in the daylight that edict is quickly disregarded. It could probably use in a cautionary sense by any parents with teenager with the rebellious mind of their own, the repercussions of such disobedience is that this deterioration is accelerated. As her cheeks begin to rot away, the mother, ever hopeful and always in denial, a certain sum carefully applied makeup can deal with it. That is only a small moment in the film, but it does crystallize the entire dynamic between the parents and Beth. Unable to cope with what’s going on but even find it plausible explanation for it, the parents embrace the bliss of denial avidly. At first Zach is going to go along with the charade but as Beth becomes more noticeably a corpse, and even worse, increasingly mindless and violent these left with only one alternative. During the presentation of the dénouement a phrase is going to come to mind; “Will there be rabbits there?” I sincerely hope the filmmaker doesn’t require us to wait another decade before seeing something he’s crafted. The talent this man possesses is just too interested to be made to wait that long between offerings.
Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Jeff Banena, Actors
Aubrey Plaza, Dane Dehaan and Matthew Gray Gubler