Review: Burying the Ex, A Movie Unworthy of Joe Dante

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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 isn’t difficult to believe he’s 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 Yelchin’s monster kid Max and Ashley Greene’s mercurial Evelyn, for instance. With the pair’s 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 it’s 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 film’s many “types” that might work in something more satirical. Her pro-green attitude bubbles shallowly, in the form of assertive “don’tchaknow” post-sex lectures on lightbulbs, while everyone on hand gets a chance to spout off outdated or never-were phrases like “I’m blogging up a storm” and “hoebag.”

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Similarly, Max and Alexandra Daddario’s Olivia are “types,” monster fans obsessed with spooky kitsch and Halloween (which Burying the Ex takes place around, but you’d never know). These are fine, noble pursuits, but Burying’s 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 Cooper’s Travis, Max’s 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). She’s 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, she’s simply the embodiment of Max’s 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 it’s 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, it’s everything around her that’s lifeless. Dante opens the film with a classical, spooky crane shot. Thunder and lightning rage while the camera dives into an open grave. It’s a promising note, but the great filmmaker can’t 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 Psycho’s stinging strings when Max sees his redecorated apartment.

It’s an inane punchline one believes Dante’s filmic brain would dismiss at suggestion. It is, like the film, totally beneath the great director.