Edinburgh International Film Festival

Life After Beth (2014)

Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, Anna Kendrick, John C Reilly, Cheryl Hines, Matthew Gray Gubler

Directed by: Jeff Baena

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Dane DeHaan and Aubrey Plaza in Life After Beth

The zombie genre is a bit like the walking dead itself: just when you think there's no life left in it, it leaps up and surprises you.

Rom-zom-com Life After Beth was written in 2003, I learn at the festival post-film Q&A. That's pre-Shaun, pre-Zombieland, pre-The Walking Dead (pre, indeed, The Battery, but sadly the undead's latest game changer doesn't merit a mention). Yet it feels as fresh (or as fresh as a film about decomposing bodies can) as any of the latter. Yet to call this a zombie movie about decomposing bodies does Life After Beth a great disservice. At heart, it's a film about love, grief, relationships and moving on.

Zach (Dane DeHaan) is mourning the death of his girlfriend, Beth (Aubrey Plaza), who was poisoned by a snake while hiking in the mountains. (Not quite as neat on dying in a freak lawnmower accident but close enough...) Haunted by all the things he wished he'd said and done when she was alive, he hangs around her parents' home, playing chess and smoking dope with dad Maury (John C Reilly), wishing he could have one more chance to see her.

And then he does, because Beth comes back from the dead. Sort of like Jesus. Or a zombie. And she's not the only one.

Since 2003 we've had running zombies, swimming zombies, swarming zombies and even zombies in love. But we've never yet had talking zombies who don't even realise they're dead, whose confused minds disintegrate slowly as their bodies gradually rot, but who still cling desperately, in bewilderment, to their sense of self.

At one level, this is a very funny film, sparkling with slacker wit and packed with splendidly innovative visual gags that I won't ruin for you here. But at another, it's a terribly sad story of loss, of one partner watching the other slowly slip away and become unrecognisable. If Harold's Going Stiff charted the horrors of ageing, then Life After Beth could almost be about early onset dementia.

But please don't let that seeming downer put you off seeing this movie, because it's truly delightful, combining the finest horror tropes with lots of laughs and a refreshingly original story, brought credibly to life (or death) by Plaza and DeHaan. If you liked the idea of Warm Bodies but found the reality a bit too emo then this is the rom-zom-com you've been waiting for.

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