Life After Beth starts as a drama: a young woman goes hiking by herself, gets bitten by a poisonous snake and dies. As you’d imagine this bums her family and boyfriend out. Then it becomes a comedy: her sudden reappearance as a living being creates some pretty awkward situations for her loved ones to deal with. In particular, the boyfriend struggles because if she’s a zombie she’s undateable, but if she’s a miracle then making out with her is A-OK. It ends up as a horror movie: Beth and all of the other resurrected people start to regress from their more or less human state to something that’s definitely zombieish.
In other words, Life After Beth is basically a burrito that got folded up wrong: all the beans are all up at the top and all the cheese is at the bottom. It’s three separate movies welded on top of each other without much of an effort to integrate them into one solid mouthful.
The problem stems mostly from the first third of the movie, which doesn’t do a good job of signposting where the movie hopes to end up. All the funereal scenes in the opening are just too heavy for a movie that spends the majority of it’s running time being much more light hearted. Perhaps they were trying to set up a realistic baseline so the movie would be grounded once the plot started escalating, but the grieving scenes take up the entire first act. Why spend so much time wallowing in mourning if Beth isn’t going to be dead for that much longer?
It’s a shame, because the film was close to finding an interesting angle into the mostly overexposed zombie genre. Because the movie wants to focus on the family’s emotional journey instead of trying to scare the audience with violence, Life After Beth feels very different from most other films about the undead. Furthermore, the decision to go down the awkward comedy route is smart, because it allows the filmmakers to illustrate some interesting situations without getting bogged down in sentimental clichés like “now I have a chance to tell you all the things I wish I could have told you before you died!” But those potentially good ideas get bogged down by muddled execution. There was always going to be a shift when Beth changes from being dead to being undead, but if they had done a better job of laying the groundwork it wouldn’t have been as abrupt and uncomfortable a shift for the audience as it was for the characters.
I kind of feel like I’m overthinking this: after all, the movie is a short 90 minutes, it has a few funny moments, and its entertaining enough. But then I keep thinking about that misfolded burrito and I get mad again. Yeah, maybe the beans are good beans and maybe that cheese is good cheese, but I want a bean and cheese burrito, not a beans now and then cheese later burrito. Life After Beth should have folded itself better, being a dramedy the whole time, instead of going from drama to comedy to horror dramedy. It’s just basic folding science!
Goddamnit, now I’m hungry and angry about being hungry. Thanks for nothing, Life After Beth.