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.
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.