Joe Dante knows cinema. The art runs in his veins, which has allowed him for over 40 years now to craft it unpredictably. His use of classic constructs, cues, references and scenario have often been in service of upending expectation. The Burbs updated the angry villagers of horror past to expose the hypocrisy of suburban living. Gremlins 2 proved a sequel that railed against sequels and corporate product long before theaters had become so saturated with them (or Jurassic World attempted similar feats). For the first chunk of new zombie comedy Burying the Ex, it isnt difficult to believe hes up to something similar; that the retrograde and inauthentic characterizations are leading toward a pointed comment about cowardly fear of commitment and manipulative bitch types the romcom has pushed on audiences for years.
They are not. Burying the Ex is unworthy of Joe Dante, and a script neither the filmmaker, or his otherwise charming ensemble, can defeat.
Though a heightened, horror comic-esque tale, what rings most unbelievable in Burying the Ex are all of its real world elements: the central relationship between Anton Yelchins monster kid Max and Ashley Greenes mercurial Evelyn, for instance. With the pairs personalities clearly at odds from the outset, the coupling is further rooted in bro-comedy philosophies that driven women are intent on driving out your quirks, interests and dreams. Whatever makes you you, especially if its a predilection to mumble softly in the face of someone challenging you to live better, will be painted over lime green.
Speaking of green, Evelyn is an environmentalist, one of the films many types” that might work in something more satirical. Her pro-green attitude bubbles shallowly, in the form of assertive dontchaknow post-sex lectures on lightbulbs, while everyone on hand gets a chance to spout off outdated or never-were phrases like Im blogging up a storm and hoebag.
Similarly, Max and Alexandra Daddarios Olivia are types, monster fans obsessed with spooky kitsch and Halloween (which Burying the Ex takes place around, but youd never know). These are fine, noble pursuits, but Buryings screenplay by Alan Trezza is a juvenile one; a teenager who still believes simple shared pop culture knowledge is the foundation of a lasting relationship. The fourth type exists in Oliver Coopers Travis, Maxs seedy brother who makes a habit of harassing women on the street and endlessly spitting the word broad.
Burying the Ex is unfortunately on the side of everyone except Evelyn (homely Travis, included). Shes painted as a monster even before she crawls out of a grave, a startling event the characters internalize, process and quip in a span of seconds. Once Evelyn returns, shes simply the embodiment of Maxs future encroaching life as a doormat. Marriage, co-habitation, children are rotting death here. To be fair, this could be very well be true, but to believe its only so for the laidback guy a woman is trying to ensnare is backwards.
Even more conflicting is the fact that only this monstrous Greene is bringing the energy a Dante film needs. In a better film, her revved up undead would lead the charge. Instead, its everything around her thats lifeless. Dante opens the film with a classical, spooky crane shot. Thunder and lightning rage while the camera dives into an open grave. Its a promising note, but the great filmmaker cant get the better of a clearly very indie production. Later frames with a clear, Creepy / Eerie tilt recall atmosphere, but are simple shorthand, like the lame visual gag which references the fright of Psychos stinging strings when Max sees his redecorated apartment.
Its an inane punchline one believes Dantes filmic brain would dismiss at suggestion. It is, like the film, totally beneath the great director.