Life After Beth Strives to Be More Than Your Garden-Variety Zombie Flick

Dane DeHaan, left, with Aubrey Plaza in Life After Beth.
Dane DeHaan, left, with Aubrey Plaza in Life After Beth.
Photo by Greg Smith

Every other year or so, someone comes down the indie-movie pike with an idea for an unconventional zombie movie — as opposed to the workaday ones, where the dead simply return to life and chew on limbs and stuff.

Life After Beth, the debut film from writer-director Jeff Baena, strives to be wilder and wackier — in a deadpan way — than your garden-variety Dawn of the Dead thing. Aubrey Plaza is the Beth of the title, who has just been laid to everlasting rest after a fatal snakebite. Imagine her grief-stricken boyfriend Zach's (Dane DeHaan) surprise when he learns that Beth has reappeared at her parents' house, looking perky and normal in a dotty white cotton dress — at least, as perky and normal as a character in a dotty white cotton dress can look.

Beth's mom (Molly Shannon) is delighted: "She's my baby girl! She's resurrected! It's a miracle!" she cries, which is just the first clue that something is terribly wrong. Another: Beth suddenly becomes crazy about Smooth Jazz. Scene by scene, Baena (who co-wrote I Heart Huckabees) builds a bizarro world in which deranged mailmen drive on the sidewalk, and dust-covered, dead grandpas reappear to scare the bejesus out of their kids and grandkids. Except it's not quite as crazy as it needs to be: There's something listless about Life After Beth — it starts out as a reflection on the potentially morbid nature of grief and then doesn't seem to know where to go.


Written and directed by Jeff Baena
Opens Aug. 15, Angelika Film Center
Available on demand

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Before you know it, Plaza's Beth is blood-smeared and growling and chained to a stove, a vision that's just nutty enough to be funny — but only for about 30 seconds.

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