Neither a real zombie apocalypse film nor a real teen romance, Jeff Baena’s Life After Beth shows us a somewhat shielded view of the return of the dead, seen from the perspective of Zach (Dane DeHaan) mourning the death of his girlfriend, before discovering days later that she has crawled out of her grave and back into her house. The zombie epidemic is strictly background, and indeed we never get any true sense of the danger, as Zach is too caught up in attempting to salvage his relationship to take much notice of other events. Even the small signs of the coming doomsday are not typical ones. The recently returned dead are at first simply shown simply as confused individuals – a mailman who crashes into mailboxes or a chef who throws food at an unsuspecting waitress. The general population apparently seem unconcerned or at most slightly put out by the invasion. This attitude is epitomized in Zach’s parents (Cheryl Hines and Paul Reiser), whose chief concern is a spot of blood on a shirt. Indeed their reactions provided most of the humour, alongside a timid childhood acquaintance (Anna Kendrick), and Zach’s trigger-happy brother (Matthew Gray Gubler) neither of whom seem to get enough screen time.
The zombie epidemic is shown lightheartedly, until suddenly it isn’t. In one scene we see Beth (Aubrey Plaza) slowly gyrating to smooth jazz, the next she’s chained to her stove drooling blood and attempting to eat her parents. Unexpected is an appropriate term for this film. Beth’s descent into full zombie state teeters on the edge of funny and downright creepy, so the laughs wrenched from the audience are more the nervous laughter of confusion at the film’s abrupt turn.
A decade after Shaun of the Dead you can’t help but feel that the so called ‘zom-rom-com’ has somewhat had its day. Life After Beth comes close to finding a new angle, however with confused elements of humour, romance and gore it seems to fall into middle ground. Despite the seemingly action-filled plot, the film shuffles along until it reaches a quite abrupt and bizarre crescendo, and falls flat again. The apocalypse cannot last, much like Zach’s relationship with Beth, and so the film leaves both behind, as well as an audience who aren’t quite sure how to take it.