At Sundance, zombie movies — like all horror films — are typically delegated to the Midnight section. This year, Sundance threw a curve-ball by programming Jeff Baena’s gory debut “Life After Beth” in the narrative competition.
The horror-comedy, centered on a mild mannered guy (Dane DeHaan) who discovers that his dead girlfriend (Aubrey Plaza) has come back from the dead, features plenty of zombie gore, but as Baena stressed during a Q&A following the film’s second-to-last screening yesterday, “Life After Beth” has more to it guts and blood. (This shouldn’t come as a complete shock — Baena co-wrote the philosophically adventurous script for David O. Russell’s “I Heart Huckabees.”)
“One of the things that informed me was this William Blake poem called ‘Eternity,’ which was about not holding stuff that you love, otherwise it destroys you. I also was reading some Jacques Derrida at the time.”
“This version of the zombie, they come back and they’re pretty close to where they were when they passed on,” he continued. “I thought it would be rich to deal with how the person comes back, and you [still] have deep feelings for them. The zombies not just arbitrarily on the streets growling. They’re actually trying to reintegrate back into their lives and it gets really messy and ugly. People try to hang on to things, and letting go isn’t just holding on, I think it’s processing grief. If you’re within your stages of grief and the person comes back, it gets really crazy.”
“Beth” not only engages your emotions and forces you to think more than your average zombie pic, it’s also, arguably, the funniest of its kind since Edgar Wright’s “Shaun of the Dead.” The best sight gag involves Plaza, in full-on zombie mode, carrying a stove on her back while hiking in the hills with her freaked out boyfriend. (You have to see the film to find out how the stove got there in the first place).
Asked how they pulled that off, Baena said, “It was a fabrication. It was plastic exterior and some Styrofoam on the inside.”
“We were told it was going to be so light that we’d have to put weights into it,” he added, “but it was so heavy that Aubrey put her back out.”