Mourning the death of his girlfriend Beth (Plaza) while hiking, Zach (DeHaan) is perplexed but delighted when she somehow comes back. But he soon learns she's not quite how he remembers.
Jeff Baena's deadpan domestic zombie apocalypse goes out of its way not to actually articulate any rules or reasons for its own idiosyncratic outbreak. There’s no explanation of why the dead are digging themselves out of their graves, although there is a Romero-like suggestion that the zombies are returning to what they knew: jobs as postmen or diner chefs, old haunts, former addresses. They have rage issues, but find “smooth jazz” calming. And again, for reasons left opaque, they prefer to live in mud-lined loft spaces. “I fought in World War II and I know attics,” is a particularly choice non sequitur from revenant Grandpa Orfman (Garry Marshall).
Tonally Life After Beth is not at all about Shaun-style splatstick, and far more along the lines of Jay and Mark Duplass’ Cyrus. That film starred John C. Reilly, again perfectly cast here as Beth’s doting father Maury Slocum, and cannily paired with Molly Shannon as his wife Geenie. The relishably insensitive Orfmans — Paul Reiser and Cheryl Hines as Zach’s (Dane DeHaan) parents, as well as Matthew Gray Gubler as his gun-nut brother — are also excellent, while Anna Kendrick plies her usual sweetness as Zach’s potential post-Beth romantic interest. DeHaan, playing it half-creepy as a not-at-all-obvious romantic lead, seems more at home here than the bigger-budget likes of the Spider-Man films.
Admittedly, everyone is cast to type... but then there’s Aubrey Plaza, sinking her teeth into a role that lets her literally chew the scenery. With an arc that takes her from something resembling Beth’s perky old self to a muttering, twitching, gurning wreck strapped to an oven, it’s not necessarily a performance you’d expect if you’re only familiar with her Parks And Recreation work. But the fact that one of her earliest roles was as ‘Girl With Massive Headwound’ in the short Killswitch suggests, perhaps, a long-standing but un-indulged affinity for gory prosthetics.
We must surely now be getting close to some sort of zombie saturation point, with even the zomromcom becoming a distinct subsubgenre. On Beth's evidence, however, there's life in the undead yet.