Combustible Celluloid
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With: Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser, Matthew Gray Gubler, Anna Kendrick, Eva La Dare, Thomas McDonell, Alia Shawkat, Allan McLeod, Paul Weitz, Michelle Azar, Jim O'Heir
Written by: Jeff Baena
Directed by: Jeff Baena
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, some horror violence, sexual content, nudity and brief drug use
Running Time: 91
Date: 08/15/2014

Life After Beth (2014)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Imitation of Life

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The directorial debut of Jeff Baena, who co-wrote the brilliant, polarizing I Heart Huckabees (2004), Life After Beth is a terrific modern-day take on the classic "Monkey's Paw" story. It depends a great deal on its sly, sustained deadpan humor and weird comic detours. Some viewers may tire of repeated jokes like the fact that smooth jazz music tends to calm the zombies, or the full-sized oven strapped to a zombie's back during a long sequence. But these jokes are actually timed to escalate in funniness, rather than diminish.

After going for a hike alone, Beth (Aubrey Plaza) is dead of a snakebite. Her boyfriend Zach (Dane DeHaan) is having a difficult time dealing, and is spending extra time with her parents (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon). One night he arrives to find that Beth is still alive, sort of. She's a zombie. She seems normal enough, and they continue dating and seeing each other. But Beth soon begins acting strange, and growing more and more out of control. Worse, more zombies begin showing up. Zach has a choice. He can either continue to pretend like nothing is wrong, or he can start preparing for a zombie apocalypse.

Baena's real achievement is balancing the humor with a truly heartfelt centerpiece story. Dane DeHaan does a remarkable job of playing it straight during his genuinely painful romantic conundrum, while Aubrey Plaza finds new angles to her usual wry comic persona. The two make a powerful connection, while great supporting cast is also used to wonderful effect. It's unlikely that the movie will catch on in a universal way, but a handful of dedicated cult fans that can tune into its peculiar strain of humor will adore it.

Lionsgate released Life After Beth on a Blu-ray edition (with an optional digital copy). It's a low-budget film and the transfer won't dazzle you, but the quality is excellent. There's a commentary track by the director, Plaza and DeHaan; you might expect it to be funny, but it's rather muted, as if they did not want to be there. We also get a pretty standard making-of featurette, and about 20 minutes of deleted scenes.

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