Burying the Ex
Director: Joe Dante
Some relationships just aren’t meant to be. Try as you may, it’s not gonna work and sooner or later you just gotta put it out of its misery. So goes the metaphor at the heart of this new zombie rom-com, about a nightmarish ex that’s dead but still won’t take the hint. Burying The Ex comes from master of comedy-horror Joe Dante, making his return to the undead after the similarly allegorical 2008 TV movie Homecoming.
Here, horror-shop geek Max (Yelchin) regrets his pledge of everlasting love to live-in needy and neurotic girlfriend Evelyn (Greene), who comes back from beyond the grave after a nasty accident with a bus. Alas, on that fateful day the nerdy push-scooter rider was mere moments away from breaking up with her. This is after having felt their relationship turn sour upon seeing her (quite understandably I thought) lambast his slacker brother Travis (Cooper) for sleeping with two women on her floor. Add in further complications with him now pursuing horror-shop geek Olivia (Daddario), and the groundwork is laid for all sorts of screwball antics, as he tries to juggle two women at once. Only (*chortle *) one of them is dead.
Despite this fairly modest plot, and minimalist approach to character progression, the movie gets stretched out to the standard 90 minutes. To be fair, it doesn’t feel like it drags or limps too much. But then nor does it do anything to particularly surprise you along the way. Really, save for some amusing word play (mostly death puns) there’s not much here to keep an audience particularly engaged. This is a shame as the acting is fairly accomplished, with the three leads doing more with their characters than is necessitated by the script. Yelchin is endearing, Greene has a good head for physical comedy and Daddario is genuinely charming. Furthermore, Cooper gives Travis an element of pathos that exceeds what we’d expect from what’s essentially a Seth Rogen-lite bro character. Dante also gives the movie an interesting 80’s Spielberg feel and energetic flair that’s really crying out for a more substantial piece.
It’s difficult to know exactly who this movie’s being pitched at. The romance between Max and Olivia is played too sickly sweet for such an otherwise irreverent film. Yet the main plot is too low brow to sustain the interest of anybody that likes their romance that way. There’s also not a whole lot of blood or guts, which may put off gore fans. Perhaps most damningly though, there’s minimal dramatic tension since Max’s grieving period appears to start and end with a set of flowers dying onscreen. This is not a film where he has to choose between two people he loves, and nor is it one where he has to struggle with accepting loss. Consequently there is very little emotional complexity to the piece, and therefore very little for you to be invested in come the movie’s bloody finale.
In addition, while I appreciate horror has not always been the most forward thinking genre, the gender politics it puts forwards are truly troubling throughout and unlikely to bypass a modern audience. Unfortunately it is littered with the sorts of sexist stereotypes that ought to have decomposed a long time ago. Evelyn (when she isn’t ‘blogging up a storm’) is presented as little more than a “crazy bitch” character who’s paranoid, aggressive, opinionated and a hell of an eco warrior. This wouldn’t be so bad, were Olivia not an archetypal manic pixie dream girl right from her kooky introduction behind an ice cream counter that specialises in monster flavours. The result is a fairly mean spirited affair wherein the man-child lifestyle is glorified and the men are ultimately rewarded for their immaturity and high-school level boorishness.
In the last decade or so the zombie comedy market has become saturated. And while this is by no means as poor as Detention of the Dead, it’s certainly not up to the standards set by Shaun of the Dead, Warm Bodies or (the really far too similar) Life After Beth. Frankly as with a bad ex, this is the kind of movie that’s maybe fun at first but soon outstays its welcome. That and when it’s over it’s one you’ll be happy never to see again.