Zack (Dane DeHaan) is having a very difficult time dealing with the unexpected death of his girlfriend, Beth (Aubrey Plaza). Clinging onto Beth’s colorful scarf like a security blanket [with benefits], Zach simply cannot seem to forgive himself for never expressing his true feelings to her. There were just so many things that Zach wishes he could have done with Beth. If only he had another chance…
Seemingly triggered by his extreme sense of loss, Zach begins to suspect that Beth’s parents (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon) might be keeping a secret from him. As crazy as it sounds, Zach actually believes that Beth might be alive. Sure, it could just be a grief-induced hallucination, but perhaps Beth’s parents faked her death for some inexplicable reason or maybe Beth was accidentally buried alive; either way, Zach thinks Beth is back and he desperately wants to see her.
Soon, the ruse is up. It turns out that Beth really is alive. Beth’s parents claim that they do not know what happened, they just know that they now have their daughter back. Unsure of what their neighbors will think, they do not want anyone else to find out about Beth’s reemergence quite yet. Zach is given permission to visit Beth as long as he promises to keep everything a secret. Zach cannot even talk to Beth about her death, because she has no memory of dying, being buried or rising from the grave.
Dane DeHaan’s portrayal of Zach carefully balances poignancy with comedy, always keeping things real no matter how absurd the world around Zach appears. Obviously having a ton of fun playing Beth, Aubrey Plaza’s meticulous transition from a flirtatiously naive (and kind of h***y) girlfriend to flesh-eating Tasmanian Devil effectively showcases her tremendous range as an actor. Her gloriously unhinged performance in the final act is heavy on the physical comedy; it is pure, unfiltered slapstick cranked way up to eleven.
Writer-director Jeff Baena cleverly turns the teenage rom-com genre upside-down by integrating certain aspects of the zombie mythos into the mix. While zombies have functioned as a wide variety of socio-political metaphors throughout their history, Life After Beth might just be the first film to use zombies as a symbol for the deterioration of a relationship, capturing the near-apocalyptic suffering of a young man after losing his girlfriend. Life After Beth is essentially a visualization of how Zach mentally processes the demise of his relationship with Beth.
First, Zach loses Beth and cannot function without her. Then, when Zach is given the opportunity to reunite with Beth, he is ecstatic. Determined to make things right with her, Zach blindly ignores all of the calling cards that Beth might be a horrible monster. It is not until the whole world seems to be falling apart around him that Zach finally sees just how dangerous and destructive a relationship with Beth can be. Take a strong whiff, Zach, that is the rotting stench of lost love.