Signs of Life
“ARE YOU FUCKING YOUR GIRLFRIEND’S SCARF!!!??” is one of the first lines of dialogue you will hear from the movie Life After Beth; and it only gets better from there. This new horror comedy mash-up flick, written and directed by Jeff Baena, is as refreshing as it is hilarious. Audiences will be treated to wave after wave of witty dialogue that never loses its momentum from the start of the movie to the closing credits. And while the film may not be the most cerebral thing you have ever watched, this is without a doubt some of the most fun you will have in a movie theater.
Centering on the simple plot of a dead girlfriend suddenly coming back to life without explanation sets the stage for quite a wild ride. Interestingly enough, there is really never a true explanation of why or how most of the events in the movie take place. For some viewers these “plot holes” may be troublesome; but upon further analysis it is extremely evident that this is Jeff Baena’s intention. The film is very self-aware of its ridiculousness and it often times pokes fun at itself for it. A particular scene near the end of the film involving the husband of a Haitian cleaning lady serves as the best example.
This idea of off-the-wall humor and ludicrousness is perfectly portrayed by its all-star ensemble of actors. Dane DeHaan, known for his breakout role in Chronicle and more recently The Amazing Spider-Man 2, plays the heart-broken protagonist Zach Orfman. DeHann’s portrayal of Zach is subtle but extremely emotive. Slight facial twitches combined with an always quivering voice make Zach truly seem like an emo teen of the new millennium. John C. Reilly puts in his usual strong comedic performance while also showing some restraint. This creates a very different kind of comedic effect when compared to some of his other roles. If I had to choose a weak link amongst the cast it would be Anna Kendrick. Her inclusion in the film seems a bit unnecessary which can probably be attributed more with her character and not the actress herself, but her short screen time does nothing to derail the otherwise perfect chemistry of the cast.
On the flip-side, if I were to choose a standout performance from this film it would undoubtedly go to Aubrey Plaza. The Parks and Recreation star’s performance rides along the entire gamut of emotions, going from sweet to sinister in an instant. Usually known for her deadpan delivery, Aubrey Plaza is finally starting to show off the other side of her acting chops first portrayed in the film Safety Not Guaranteed. The actress literally steals the show whenever she is on screen, continuously providing us with laughs that kept the theater rolling.
As previously stated, this film offers nothing in the form of universal themes or existential truths. What the film does offer though is a comedy that is not lacking in style. Baena’s creative use of tracking shots should be commended. This in conjunction with a fast paced editing rhythm keeps this film from never feeling stale. A scene early on in the film involving Zach frantically trying to “break into” Beth’s (Aubrey Plaza) house is fun and frantic. Baena decides to furiously shake the camera while maintaining an extreme close-up on Zach’s face to create a scene with tension that very cleverly upholds its comedic integrity. It also does not hurt that the movie has a pretty smooth soundtrack that is integral to the plot.
Life After Beth is in no way shape or form a game changer like Shaun of the Dead was in 2004, but it is a very refreshing take on the comedy horror genre that has gone stale. It takes everything the film Warm Bodies wanted to do and just does it better. There is more style in the cinematography, there is more chemistry amongst the actors, and there is more zing in the dialogue. Aubrey Plaza gives the performance of her career as she continues to become a force in the industry. The film also does a good job of never drifting into the too profane or crude territory. Quotes such as the one I used to start this review do appear throughout the film but when compared to films like Jennifer’s Body or Teeth, Life After Beth is pretty clean. While not all filmgoers will jive with the form of dark comedy presented, Life After Beth is a great indication that there are in fact signs of life for the comedy horror genre.