Sometimes it's crazy how similar two movies that come out in the same year can be. There have been several high profile instances of this, most recently the year of OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN and WHITE HOUSE DOWN, but it happens with lower budgeted films as well. For example, the two movies we're looking at with today's Face-Off. Both released in 2014, Jeff Baena's LIFE AFTER BETH and Joe Dante's BURYING THE EX are both about young men dealing with the loss and resurrection of their girlfriends. So similar that they even both feature the line "Love conquers all", they do still provide unique viewing experiences, so let's see what happens they're put head-to-head.
As played by Dane DeHaan, Zach Orfman is just a regular, good guy. He plays guitar, sings poorly, and has a wacky family. The film doesn't delve very far into who he is beyond his relationship and obsession with his (un)dead girlfriend Beth, though. He may be kind of bland, but when the world around him starts to fall apart he does take it upon himself to get to the bottom of what's going on and to try to make things right, so you can't fault him too much.
If director Joe Dante was a twentysomething these days, he would probably be a lot like Max, played by Anton Yelchin. Max is a fun character to watch because he's one of us, he loves horror - he works in a horror-themed store, wants to run his own store, loves monster cereal, and spends his time watching genre films, mostly from the '30s - '50s. When his zombie girlfriend moves back in with him, he handles it the best he can and you sympathize with him every step of the way.
Aubrey Plaza's Beth returns from the dead with no memory of having died, so she settles right back into her life, aside from a preoccupation with having to take a school test even though she's out of school. Plaza gives an entertaining, amusing performance as this girl who gradually deteriorates physically and mentally, becoming extremely needy, confused, and potentially dangerous.
Max's girlfriend Evelyn (Ashley Greene) is intensely needy and jealous, and not a good match for him. That doesn't make her love him any less. Rather oblivious to their problems, she's completely devoted to him and comes back from the grave intending to be with him forever, even if that requires making him a zombie, too. She's not a terrible person, but she's very tough to deal with.
You would expect this type of movie to present a rival for the lead's affections, but that's not a storyline LIFE AFTER BETH seems interested in pursuing. There is another woman who shows up in Zach's life, his long-lost childhood friend Erica Wexler (played by Anna Kendrick), and she seems like a nice girl, but she's barely in the movie at all. If Erica were removed from the film completely, it wouldn't change much.
The budding relationship between Max and ice cream store owner Olivia (Alexandra Daddario) is a huge part of the story, but it would go nowhere if Olivia wasn't relentlessly pursuing him. She's a bit questionable, but also likeable because she's clearly a match for Max. She hangs out in the Hollywood Forever cemetery and attends a Val Lewton double feature and a special screening of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, what's not to love?
Zombies are largely played for laughs here. They come back thinking nothing has changed since the day of their death, leading them into some confused, awkward situations. They try to go back to their lives, but they can't quite do the things they used to do, like drive or deliver mail to the right recipients. Odd thing is, they move into attics and start covering the walls with dirt. If they're not listening to smooth jazz their hair-trigger tempers and superhuman strength can cause some havoc. After a while, they begin to develop an intense hunger, even resorting to eating people.
Zombie Evelyn is very much the same as living Evelyn was, she's just a lot more flexible, can't be killed, and is slowly rotting while she goes about her day, which consists of yoga, obsessing over Max, and leaving the smallest carbon footprint possible. As her time as a zombie goes on, Evelyn begins to develop a strange craving, not for flesh like a Romero zombie but for brains, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD style. Comparing her to other zombies in pop culture, Evelyn isn't all that impressive, but for she's plenty threatening in this particular situation.
FRIENDS & FAMILY
The supporting cast is an impressive bunch of talented and funny people: John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon as Beth's parents, Paul Reiser and Cheryl Hines as Zach's parents, Garry Marshall as his zombie grandfather, Matthew Gray Gubler as his trigger-happy brother. They do some great work here.
Max's half-brother Travis seems to be the most successful lothario in Los Angeles, although viewers will be baffled as to why. Oliver Cooper isn't quite who you might imagine would play such a role, but he does a fine job bringing to life a character who is sort of amusing and annoying in equal measure.
LIFE AFTER BETH
LIFE AFTER BETH and BURYING THE EX are both entertaining films that I would highly recommend checking out, but even though EX is packed with cool references for the horror-loving audience, there's just something about BETH that I find slightly more appealing. Its supporting cast is awesome, there are more zombies and their scenes are a lot of fun, and Beth is a more bearable character than Evelyn.
Did BETH deserve the win, or do you find EX to be the more enjoyable movie? Let us know your thoughts on these flicks by leaving a comment below. If you would like to send in a suggestion for a future Face-Off, you can contact me at CodyHamman@joblo.com.