3 out of 5 stars
Rated R. Directed by Joe Dante. Written by Alan Trezza.
Starring Anton Yelchin, Ashley Greene, Alexandra Daddario and Oliver Cooper.
Opens Fri., June 19 in theaters and on Video on Demand/iTunes.
While he made his bones as a cult-horror icon with films like Piranha and The Howling, director Joe Dante's best work — including Gremlins, Twilight Zone: The Movie and Small Soldiers — has always run more on fun than fright. It shouldn't be any surprise, then, that his new, comparatively intimate foray into the horror-comedy field, Burying The Ex, ends up focusing more on the figurative heart and what it wants than literal hearts being torn from chests and eaten.
Even the premise reads like a sitcom rather than a screamfest. Listless horror nerd Max (Anton Yelchin) thinks he's the luckiest man in the world to have found beautiful, eco-conscious girlfriend Evelyn (Ashley Greene, more than redeeming herself after the Twilight films). Until they move in together, that is, and he begins to suspect that they're ultimately incompatible. When Evelyn dies in an accident on her way to a meeting at which Max plans to break up with her, he becomes racked with guilt and depression, until a new love interest begins to pull him back out of his shell.
That's when Evelyn returns from the grave, brought back by their shared promise to love one another forever — made in the heat of passion, perhaps, but also unfortunately in the presence of a powerful supernatural force.
Contemporary horror fans will find the fingerprints of stuff like Shaun of the Dead all over this one, but Burying The Ex ultimately has much more in common with '80s fringe fare like Return of the Living Dead, right down to the punk- and New Wave-toned soundtrack. The movie also borrows heavily from geeks-getting-what-they-wish-for flicks of the same era (Weird Science, anyone?), particularly in the form of scene-stealing, sex-crazed loser best friend/half-brother Travis. As in those non-horror influences, the scares and graphic violence are turned down (though there is some of the latter) in favor of what really boils down to a severely quirky take on a classic love story.
Which may bore the shit out of gore-hounds and torture-porn heads, but who cares? Burying The Ex is fun, cheeky without being overbearingly self-aware, and surprisingly well executed given its low-budget look and retro-reverential feel. The acting across the board is miles better than one might expect in a flick of this stature; Alexandra Daddario gives nice depth to Max's earnest new crush Olivia while still playing with the character's familiar stereotypes, and Oliver Cooper plays unlikely Lothario Travis with just the right amount of tacky poon-hound mania while refraining from too much scenery-chewing. It's also fun to pick apart all the by-now mandatory horror-movie touchstones, from the classic films playing on the TV at the Halloween shop where Max works to the cameos by actors from Dante's bigger hits.
The only real problem with Burying The Ex manifests itself in Evelyn, who is ultimately too sympathetic — both before and after her death — to be seen as some evil she-ghoul deserving of everything that happens to her. She's only needy and controlling because she lost a loved one, and doesn't want to lose Max; she's only back from the dead because love and dark magic demand it. In a more substantial movie, her story might make for another level of heady, ironic tragedy, but here it grinds, a bit distractingly, against the grain of Dante's gleefully superficial tone.
Otherwise, though, the proven master of both B-movie shlock and heartfelt fun has once again managed to balance elements of both, this time producing a comfortably familiar and entertaining little love letter to the humorous side of horror.