If the root of every movie is a question that needs answering, the question posed by writer/director Jeff Baena‘s Life After Beth is, “what if ground zero for a zombie outbreak was some sad suburban wiener and his boring girlfriend?”
The sub-question is, “Is this movie ever going to end?”
Dane Dehaan, who directors frequently employ as Guy Who’s About To Cry, plays that wiener, Zach (great wiener name, incidentally) fully utilizing his impressive moping skills in a film that opens with him trying to buy black napkins for his dead girlfriend’s wake. “That’s more of a Halloween item, maybe try a party store?” the clerk suggests.
Cut to Zach back at his dead girlfriend’s house, bonding with her parents, played by John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon, over their shared loss. “Call me Maury,” says Reilly, which Zach will soon do roughly 400 times in the next 90 minutes. They smoke a commiseratory joint over a chess game and talk about all the things they wish they’d said to Beth before she died of a freak snake bite accident. Zach leaves thinking he’s made himself some new friends, only when he goes back to play some more chess the next day, Beth’s parents are avoiding him like a Mormon missionary and won’t answer the door. What gives? He peeks inside, and sees a glimpse of Beth. He bursts inside trying to figure out what’s going on. Have they been hiding her from him? Was this all a big hoax? Beth herself (Aubrey Plaza) doesn’t seem to know.
“She’s been resurrected!” Beth’s mom says.
Maury eventually lets Zach come over to see Beth, but only if they stay in the house and Zach promises not to tell her about her recent eath day and uneral fay. Beth is alive, but she’s acting strange. She babbles about having a test even though it’s summer, constantly wants to go on a hike, loves the attic, and only listens to smooth jazz. She seems to be decomposing. It’s compelling enough at first. You want to stick around, if only to see just where the hell the filmmakers are going with all of this.
And then about an hour in it dawns on you: Ohhhh, I see where they were going with this: bad zombie jokes with a really drawn out set up. Beth’s quirks are just quirks of the zombies in this particular outbreak. “They love attics,” Dehaan explains when his dead grandparents show up in his living room asking about the attic.