Have you ever wondered what an EC Comics story would look like if written at a time where both ecological living and horror had thriving subcultures? Did you ever wish that Are You Afraid of the Dark? had its own movie spinoff? Did you ever date someone that you just couldn’t stand, and found yourself unable to get them out of your life no matter what? If you answered yes to at least two of these questions, then you’ll probably get a grave-stomping kick out of Burying the Ex, the latest feature from family-friendly horror icon Joe Dante.
A film that celebrates a love of horror cinema at nearly every turn, Burying the Ex centers on Star Trek’s Anton Yelchin as Max, the increasingly frustrated boyfriend of the overly toxic Evelyn (Twilight’s Ashley Green), a young woman who would rather recycle vintage film posters than display them. Her lack of respect for Max’s love of the genre is a huge problem, and one wonders why they ever got together in the first place, but c’est la vie. (At least temporarily.)
An employee of a morbid souvenir shop, Max is the sort of guy who lets things happen without much pushback, and his half-brother Travis is there as a sex-craved muse, advising him to end things with Evelyn before it’s too late. Evelyn is constantly disgusted by Travis, who is played with a stubbly subpar-Jonah Hill grace by Oliver Cooper (who should be a standout in Amazon’s upcoming comedy Red Oaks), and following an incident in a horror-themed ice cream shop run by Alexandra Daddario’s Olivia, it’s obvious that no one but Evelyn is invested in their relationship. And so when she gets slammed by a bus and dies in the middle of the street, it seems like a ghoulishly serendipitous way for Max to find happiness again.
But some things will just never die, especially when cursed knickknacks are involved, and Evelyn comes back from the dead to add gruesome complications to Max’s attempt at a new romance with Olivia. It’s not the most complex set-up for a movie, and given the low budget and limited cast, it’s also not the most triumphant presentation of the material. But after years of unevenly half-hearted horror comedies like The Voices and Life After Beth, to name but a recent few, Burying the Ex is somewhat refreshing in that it never presents itself as anything more than what it is.
Burying the Ex was written by Alan Trezza, who also wrote and directed the 2008 short film of the same name with John Francis Daley and Danielle Harris in the lead roles. At some points, it doesn’t seem like many new jokes were added to this extended version, and it’s not difficult to understand how average moviegoers might be turned off in some ways. But hey, them’s the breaks with horror flicks. If you’re seeking deep themes, you can look at Evelyn’s eco-friendly attitude balancing how disposable she is, or how Max’s true love for all things spooky is inherently responsible for keeping his non-true love in his life. Or, more likely, you can just sit back and take it as occasionally goofy surface entertainment.
Beyond the script, genre buffs will delight in all of the visual touches that Dante fills the frames with, from movie theater marquees to jokes in cemeteries. Max’s store is a treat, and there are always classic horror movies playing on TVs in the background. (R.I.P. Christopher Lee.) Olivia’s ce cream shop, which gives Fruit Brute cereal a shout out, also gets a lovingly crafted set design. There sadly isn’t as much gore and nastiness as I would have hoped for, but it’s definitely fun to watch Evelyn get obliviously grosser and grosser as the film continues. And there are thankfully a few moments so viscerally disturbing that vocal groans are unavoidable.
It’s been five years since Dante gave audiences his Looney Tunes: Back in Action follow-up, the enjoyably young-skewing monster flick The Hole, and the unpredictable filmmaker has delivered another film that is unmistakably his own. While it’s unfortunately on the tail end of a line of so-so zombified romantic comedies, Burying the Ex pays its respect to the genre and is ideal for a drive-in experience where the popcorn butter flows like blood. Let’s hope we’re not waiting until 2019 to see what Dante does next.