When reliable performers show up in a film that is neither good nor bad, they appear frozen, bored, cut off. In films like these, placeholding paycheck performances don't sting much, but the latest versions of the old familiar tricks feel like mirages, too.
Such actorly lifelessness eventually conquers the cast of Jeff Baena's Life After Beth, which isn't a high-concept horror-romance as much as it is an impressive collection of talent sitting around while some decent ideas about love, humanity, and violence recede into the suburban background.
Baena's film initially follows brooding young stormcloud Zach (Dane DeHaan) as he tries to recover from the sudden death of his girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza). Zach grieves by spending lots of time with Beth's shell-shocked parents played by Molly Shannon and John C. Reilly.
One day, Zach stops by Beth's parents' house, but they won't let him in. Later that evening Zach returns. He sneaks around to the back, peers through a window, and, to his surprise, glimpses Beth walking down a hallway. For some reason, she's come back, and although she is a bit foggy, she seems fine. So Zach and Beth try to rekindle their relationship. What could go wrong?
Life After Beth is kind of about grief and kind of about teenage romance, but it's mostly about interesting-looking faces. Reilly's comic-menacing mug is dominated by a strong, tiered brow that buries his eyes so deeply in his head he suggests an overgrown troll who views the world through a speakeasy door slot. DeHaan's weary, wrinkled newborn's eyes and motionless shingle of hair offset his quivering childlike mouth; Plaza's huge, deadish eyes and bulbous head suggest a predatory hipster insect that's sucked too much blood.
Life After Beath is seldom raw or intense and never truly funny. It is kinky, though. A scene of joyful, broad-daylight necrophilia in the sands of a public park playground contrasts a romantic evening at the beach that explodes into a Kiss Me Deadly holocaust.
A likely future cult classic, this tantalizing, gender-flipped variation of Warm Bodies checks at least one item off its list — there are fewer people standing around doing nothing at the end than there were at the beginning.