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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Life After Beth

October 20th, 2014

Life After Beth - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Life After Beth opened with strong buzz, especially for a limited release, but the reviews were mixed and it struggled to find an audience in theaters. It also debuted on Video on Demand, so that didn't help its box office numbers. Now that it is out on the home market, is it worth a look? And is the Blu-ray worth picking up?

The Movie

We first see Beth Slocum as she's hiking up on the hills. The next person we see is Zack Orfman, as he's trying to buy black napkins. We learn that Beth has died from a snake bite and Zach was her boyfriend. He's understandably taking it really hard, as are her parents, Geenie and Maury. The only people who understand what they are going through are each other and spending time with them seems to help Zach. He opens up to Maury and tells him that he and Beth were going through some problems and if she hadn't died, they might have broken up. Maury does comfort him enough that Zach goes over there again. However, this time no one answers the door.

Zack talks to his family about this, but they don't really help him. The next time he goes to the Slocum's house, he doesn't just knock but looks around the house and inside the windows. That's when he sees Beth inside. Needless to say, he freaks out a little. He freaks out enough that his brother, Kyle, who is a security guard for the neighbourhood, comes round. Kyle doesn't believe Zach saw Beth, because of course he doesn't, because Zach sounds crazy. Kyle escorts Zach off the premises, but that night, Zach sneaks back to the Slocum property and hears Geenie and Maury talking about Beth. He manages to break into the house and that's when he sees Beth, alive and well.

At first Zack thinks Beth was just pretending to be dead, because that would be the logical thing to think, if this happened in the real world. However, Beth acts like she has no idea what he's talking about. When Beth becomes distressed, Geenie and Maury try to calm him down, but he takes off. Later, when he goes to Beth's grave, he sees it is there, but someone climbed out. This is when he goes back to the Solcum's house and finds out what really happened. Shortly after Zach left the first night, Beth came home and didn't remember a thing. She didn't remember dying. She didn't remember getting bit by a snake. She didn't remember getting into a fight with Zach. As far as she knows, nothing happened to her, but everyone else is acting really weird.

At first, this is the best thing to happen to Zack. Losing Beth showed him how much he truly loved her, but now that she's back, they have a second chance. However, something has definitely changed with Beth. She's more aggressive, and stronger, and soon she starts to scare him. I think at this point, you have enough of the setup, without getting too deep into spoiler territory.

This is not the first zombie film that includes romance. Both Shaun of the Dead and Warm Bodies did it, and they both did it better. I do really like the initial setup. What if you had a second chance with a loved one that died... but the second chance was them as a zombie? Second chance love stories are arguably a genre of their own and the zombie aspect is a good twist to keep it from feeling stale. However, the execution is a little mixed. Unfortunately, I was never as engaged with the two leads in this movie as much as I was with Shaun of the Dead or Warm Bodies. The first time we hear Beth speak, she's already dead, so we get very little of her pre-death personality. Aubrey Plaza plays the character well, but perhaps if more time was spent getting to know the character before she came back, I would have been more engaged. Or perhaps if her transformation to a zombie was more subtle, so we got to know her more before the zombie rage took over. With Warm Bodies, you got to know R as a character enough that his transformation matter.

I'm focusing on the negatives, but to be fair, Life After Beth isn't a bad movie and there's a lot to recommend here. This includes the acting from the main cast. That's not to say the acting from the supporting cast was bad, but there's a sizable drop-off in screen time from the main cast to the supporting cast. Zack's parents, played by Cheryl Hines and Paul Reiser, have maybe two scenes where they do anything of significance to the plot. There is also a good mix of comedy, horror, and drama. Sometimes the humor came at really inappropriate times, but that's part of the charm. Overall, it really is worth checking out, but I can't help thinking that this is wasted potential. This should have been great, but I'll settle for good.

The Extras

The extras begin with an audio commentary track with the writer / director, Jeff Baena, as well as three of the actors, Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, and Matthew Gray Gubler. Up next is Life After Beth: The Post Mortem, which is a 16-minute making of featurette. Finally, there are 20 minutes of deleted scenes.

The technical presentation is excellent, given the film's budget. The film was shot digitally, so it should come as no surprise that the clarity of the picture is really high. The level of detail is fantastic, while the colors are equally strong. There are no digital artifacts or compression issues. The audio track is clear, but not overly complicated. There's enough activity in the surround sound speakers that it doesn't feel barren, but don't expect a lot of dynamic effects.

The Blu-ray costs just $19, which is a good price. However, the DVD is just $13, which is a better price.

The Verdict

Life After Beth doesn't live up to its potential, but works well enough that it is worth checking out. The extras on the DVD and Blu-ray lift it to a purchase, but I think the Blu-ray costs a little too much compared to the DVD. At least that's true at the moment. Things might change.

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Filed under: Video Review, Life After Beth, Matthew Gray Gubler, Cheryl Hines, Nicholas Hoult, John C. Reilly, Paul Reiser, Molly Shannon, Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, Jeff Baena