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Life After Beth (2014)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/21/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/23/2014
How trends start is typically something which becomes the object of debate and the kind of thing on which "experts" can't agree. What is much more evident is how trends take shape. At first, the trend produces a series of things which are very similar. After a time, we begin to see off-shoots of the central trend. These are things which take the initial concept and add something different to it. Take the now decade long revival of the zombie movie for example. We've been treated to many, many movies which show the zombie apocalypse, while The Walking Dead ensures that TV viewers are spoon-fed a rich diet of recycled ideas. As this trend has ebbed and flowed, we've begun to see movies which take the zombie phenomenon and cast it in a totally different light. Life After Beth aims to take the zombie movie into romantic drama territory.
Beth Slocum (Aubrey Plaza) has died and her boyfriend, Zach Orfman (Dane DeHaan) is taking it pretty hard. Following the funeral, he continues to visit Beth's parents, Maury (John C. Reilly) and Geenie (Molly Shannon), as they all work through their grief. Zach's own parents, Judy (Cheryl Hines) and Noah (Paul Reiser), begin to worry about him. One day, Zach goes to the Slocum house and her parents won't let her in, but he does catch a glimpse of what looks like Beth through the blinds. Determined, Zach returns later, makes his way into the house and finds that Beth is alive...sort of. She's acting like Beth, but she doesn't remember the incident which lead to her death. While Maury and Geenie are at a loss to explain her return, they are overjoyed, despite the fact that she insists on living in the attic. Zach is thrilled as well, but he can't shake the feeling that something isn't quite right. As he and the newly returned Beth spend more time together, Zach begins to wonder the whole thing isn't a big mistake.
Writer/Director Jeff Baena, who wrote I © Huckabees, makes his directorial debut with Life After Beth and I must say that I like how he's turned the genre on its ear. From the trailers, I assumed that the movie would be a retread of Warm Bodies, but it is not, although both movies do focus on a human and a zombie having a relationship. The film opens with Beth already deceased, so we aren't treated to footage of what the relationship between Beth and Zach was like before. The cause for Beth's return is never explained, nor is some of her more bizarre behavior. I don't want to give too much away, but the story is, in some ways, told in the reverse of the typical zombie movie. Baena wisely keeps the focus on Beth and Zach and their families for the most part and it's not until the third act that we see a much of what is happening in the rest of the world. And for those of you who assume that the film shies away from horror elements, there is certainly typical zombie behavior here.
Baena also uses the movie as a clever metaphor for relationships. Again, we don't know what Beth and Zach's relationship was like before, but we see what it is like now. Beth is childish and demanding, and often very obstinate. She likes to get her way and has to be coerced into doing things. She is also very jealous. As the story progresses, we can see that Zach tires of this behavior. Was he so glad that she came back that he was blinded to her true nature at first? Was Beth like this before and Zach simply didn't see it? We are never given more than clues to these questions, but one gets the feeling that Zach realizes that being with Beth simply isn't worth the hassle.
So, Baena has brought some interesting elements to the zombie story (although some of these have been tackled in previous films) and he's clearly assembled an impressive cast. (It was good to see Paul Reiser in something.) The problem is that he forgot to bring any emotion to the movie. The way in which the story begins drew me in, but I simply kept waiting and waiting to feel something, but it never happened. The movie is never touching or scary, nor is it very funny, despite that the fact that it clearly wants to be a black comedy. The parts which were meant to be funny are easy to spot, such as Zach's over-the-top brother (Matthew Gray Gubler), but they simply weren't. There's a few clever lines, but nothing truly funny. It was clear that the ending was supposed to be moving, but by that time, the movie had gone too far to be emotional. Life After Beth achieves its goal of being a quirky arthouse zombie movie, but while there are moments of inspiration, the entire thing will leave you cold.
Life After Beth made me wonder how much a stove weighs on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 24 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only a trace amount of grain at times and no defects from the source materials. Despite the dark material, Baena has included many sunny, daytime shots which offer nice-looking colors. The level of detail is notable and the depth is good. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects show good separation and are especially good at highlighting sounds coming from off-screen. The beach scene in particular shows off the surround sound effects, and it also includes some nice subwoofer action.
The Life After Beth Blu-ray Disc contains a handful of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Writer/Director Jeff Baena and actors Aubrey Plaza, Dana DeHaan, and Matthew Gubler. "Life After Beth: The Post Mortem" (16 minutes) is a making-of featurette which offers interviews with Baena, Plaza, DeHaan, Gubler, and Molly Shannon. The speakers talk about their experiences on the film, how the project came together, and the film's story and themes. The piece contains a wealth of clips from the movie, but there is on behind-the-scenes footage here. The Disc contains ten DELETED SCENES which run about 20 minutes. This includes some brand-new moments, including several scenes with Alia Shawkat and Thomas McDonell, who plays friends of Zach.
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long