Burying the Ex (2014)

Horror fans of a certain age possess a deep, abiding love for Joe Dante. The auteur who gave us Gremlins, Piranha, Matinee et al can (usually) do no wrong, as evidenced by his most recent offering, The Hole; a fun, exciting, super-spooky kids’ horror flick with the scariest clown doll this side of Poltergeist. It’s been six years since that film was released and, sadly, those hoping Burying The Ex, Dante’s return to the genre, will be another classic to add to the list will be disappointed. It’s not quite as terrible as you may have heard, but it’s not exactly life-changing either.

In the same vein as the decent Warm Bodies and last year’s Life After Beth, Burying The Ex concerns a regular guy named Max (Anton Yelchin, taking centre-stage following supporting roles in the likes of Only Lovers Left Alive) whose ex-girlfriend, Evelyn (The Twilight Saga’s Ashley Greene), returns from the dead. Unlike these similarly-themed movies, however, Max isn’t enamoured with zombies and is actually on the cusp of starting something new when his lady returns. Further to this, Evelyn is even more of a crazy harpy in the afterlife than when she was alive.

It’s been nearly ten years since Shaun Of The Dead created the zom-rom-com sub-subgenre and Edgar Wright’s near-perfect flick is still untouchable. Boasting a well-judged mixture of self-referential humour, gruesome gore and heart, with a top-notch cast headed by the terrific Simon Pegg, Wright struck gold with Shaun and nobody has come close to topping him yet. Not even, it would seem, Joe Dante.

Burying The Ex is a strange film, because, on paper, it should work really well. Dante obviously knows his shit, so when Max is watching House On Haunted Hill in work, or when he and his date go to see a classic zombie movie in a cemetery, we know it’s not for cool points. And, as horror nerd characters go, Max is well-drawn – especially when he freaks out over his imported posters being folded. Likewise, although it seems like strange casting, the pneumatic Alexandra Daddario (of Texas Chainsaw 3D), is a good fit as his new paramour. With minimal make-up and relaxed styling, the strikingly gorgeous actress is borderline attainable and her horror fanatic Olivia is adorable.

Greene’s Evelyn, on the other hand, is a shrill, one-note lunatic who throws tantrums to get her way and whose only saving grace is that she’s (seemingly) really good in bed. Unlike Olivia, who’s spunky and chatty and fun, Evelyn epitomises everything men supposedly hate about women. She’s a hardcore vegan, she redecorates Max’s apartment without asking, she hates his best friend and, most unforgivably, she despises horror movies. But Max keeps her around because she sucks his dick. Although Evelyn may be a victim of bad (male) writing, Greene does nothing to elevate her character, over-acting to the point that a sequence which sees her barf embalming fluid all over Max actually feels underplayed.

Burying The Ex has the potential to be a lot of fun. Most of the sillier jokes land (Bloody Mary’s Boo-Tique! The Satan Genie!), and there are some great sight gags, such as when Evelyn first appears at Max’s door after digging herself out of her grave. The thing is loaded with sly references, while the central relationship – the rom element – between Max and Olivia is sweet and well-played by the likeable Yelchin and Daddario. There are also some decent make-up and practical effects on show, as Evelyn gradually rots, and it zips along at a nice enough pace.

What’s crucially lacking is either the dry, deadpan wit of Life After Beth, or the sweet, good-natured humour of Shaun Of The Dead. Much of the jokes in Burying The Ex come from Evelyn’s insatiable sex drive, particularly when she’s a zombie and Max finally manages to resist her. But, is it because she’s a yucky corpse or because he really likes Olivia?

Max’s motivations are never quite clear and, as a protagonist, he doesn’t have the get-up-and-go that Shaun had (he’s immediately established as a total pushover) or the pathetic longing of Beth’s boyfriend (he planned to dump Evelyn right before she died). Max just sort of lumbers along and, considering Evelyn is literally an insufferable wench from the outset; it’s inconceivable that he’d stay with her in the first place. As a result, it’s kind of impossible to empathise with him.

This is Dante’s first movie since The Hole, so it’s difficult not to be kinder to it than one would if it was a random film from some nobody, or a first attempt (the script does have “first attempt” written all over it, however). It’s not an absolute travesty, by any means, and there’s a little glimmer of Dante magic present.

Unfortunately, the random parts that work don’t gel with those that don’t. The script is all over the place, the score is so whimsical it belongs in a different film and, by the time we reach our inevitable conclusion, everything has become way too goofy for us to actually care about what’s happening.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

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