Max (Yelchin) is not happy with his life. He works a demeaning job, his half-brother Travis (Cooper) uses Max’s apartment as a bachelor pad, and Max’s girlfriend Evelyn (Greene) is an eco-obsessed control freak, keen to dominate every aspect of Max’s life. He’d have broken up with her by now if they weren’t constantly having sex. One day, however, Max finally works up the courage to dump Evelyn, only for her to die just before he is able to. Problem solved, right? Nope, because Evelyn comes back from the dead, with plans on turning Max into a zombie too, so they can live together, forever. Max is, understandably, less than keen on the idea, especially seeing as he’s just met the perfect girl for him, hipster ice cream parlour owner Olivia (Daddario).
Where did it all go wrong for Joe Dante? He used to be such a fun and inventive director, capable of delivering classics like Gremlins or The ‘Burbs, or at least show us something interesting and innovative with the likes of Innerspace or Small Soldiers. It seems ever since the universally panned Looney Tunes: Back in Action he’s lost his spark, and he certainly didn’t rekindle it with Burying the Ex. Relying on classic horror nostalgia, centring on unsympathetic characters and taking no unexpected turns throughout, this was a major disappointment.
As our hero, Max is a hard guy to root for. He constantly complains about his job, working in a horror-themed costume store, but he is always late, messes around with the stock and invites Evelyn round to try out the new slutty costumes in the back room, so if anything he should be grateful his boss has inexplicably kept him on this long as it is. The only downside to it seems to be that he must say “Go to Hell” to every customer on their departure, and most of them are offended at that. Max’s dream is to one day open up the exact same kind of store somewhere else, but working for himself, so he can’t hate his current job that much if it’s precisely what he wants to do anyway. The only reason he comes off as the protagonist is because Evelyn is such an over the top domineering figure that anyone sharing the screen with her will always come off in a better light.
Plot-wise this feels like a hastily sketched-out first draft, wherein the focus was on cramming as many dead-themed puns in as possible, with the intention being to spice them up a little bit on the re-writes that sadly never came about. There’s a location literally called Club Death, just in case you didn’t know what was going on here. There’s also a severe lack of characters. Other than the aforementioned four, no-one else is named in the film or given more to do than react blandly to the antics of Max or Travis. This is the kind of film that needs a little background flavour. Adding in Max’s boss as an overbearing psychopath with some hilarious character traits or an easily detested attitude problem would be nice, and would make his hatred of his job all the more relatable. Or give Evelyn or Olivia a friend to talk to, other than the two cardboard cut-outs that follow Olivia in one scene and say maybe one line between them. Give Travis a vengeful ex-girlfriend, or one of them could have quirky parents. Something with a little personality would be nice. Or even a name. Anything.
The main cast are decent though. Greene especially gives a very game performance especially post-zombification, and it was interesting to see a member of the undead who operated as a fully functioning human being, but with added decomposition and an eventual craving for grey matter. There’s also one very good shot of a decomposing pot plant that is both a good use of time lapse photography and a well implemented way of portraying the passing of time and one character’s disinterest in maintaining themselves or their surroundings. Sadly, these are the only positives I could garner from the film. It’s not funny enough to be a comedy, nowhere near scary enough to even be considered horror, and it cannot possibly be a romance, because that would imply a rounded romantic interest for Max to fall for, instead of the box-ticking vision that stepped from his fantasies that is Olivia. And referencing the likes of Val Lewton and George Romero just reminds the viewer what we could be watching instead.
Burying the Ex is available digitally in the UK and USA on June 19th, and is available to download and view-on-demand on major platforms.