Since arriving on the scene with his 7-plus hour long compilation film, The Movie Orgy, Joe Dante has been one of the most important, vivacious genre film directors. A master of satire, Dante’s work traversed different genres but always managed to be socially relevant, visually engaging, bizarre and, above all, funny. While Dante’s output was almost flawless between his debut in ’68 and 1990’s release of Gremlins 2, his work over the last 25 years has been more scattered and featured less notable works. If Dante was in a career slump, it ended with last year’s release of Burying the Ex. Adapted from a short story written and directed by Alan Trezza — who also penned the script for the feature — the horror-comedy sees a return to form for Dante.
Max (Aton Yelchin) and Evelyn (Ashley Greene) may be polar opposites — she, an obsessive “militant” vegan and environmental blogger; he, a laid back horrorphile — but they, nonetheless, share a deep sexual connection. When Evelyn’s idiosyncrasies begin to invade every aspect of Max’s life, his patience begins to wear. It’s bad enough that she trashes his original imported horror posters and repaints his apartment florescent green — environmentally sustainable, of course — but when she melts down and berates the owner of a local ice cream shop (Olivia played by Alexandra Daddario) she assumes is flirting with Max, the relationship comes to a natural end…or at least that’s the plan. Never one to deal with pressure well, Max invites Evelyn to meet him at a local dog park where he plans to end the relationship under the safety of a public setting. His plans are foiled when, on her way to meet him, Evelyn is hit and killed by a passing truck. Max’s problems finally seem over but just as he begins an affair with Olivia, Evelyn returns from the grave to stake in her man; like in life, Evelyn is relentless in death.
Like The ‘Burbs and Gremlins, Burying the Ex’s subject matter — a mixture of the morbid and sentimental — allows for Dante’s best to shine. The director has always exhibited a strong talent for not only casting but also directing realistic performances, even when the subject matter calls for anything but realism. This is no exception for Burying the Ex, which is nearly flawlessly cast. The decision to cast Anton Yelchin in the lead— fun fact: Trezza originally cast Freaks and Geeks alum John Francis Daley in the role of Max for the short — really makes the film. The Russian-born actor has been on the scene since he was 11, making quite the name for himself in the last few years. After a fantastic performance in Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive as a lovable oaf, Burying the Ex allows for Yelchin to tread on similar grounds, only this time as the lead. He has an off-kilter sense of charisma, giving him space be very likable and charming without coming off aggressively so. He naturally delivers his dialogue, grounding even the most absurd of scenes. Likewise, the rest of the cast all turn in fantastic performances, with Alexandra Daddario coming off well if not somewhat awkward at times (although most of which the script calls for).
Other than a few script eccentricities that could probably be chalked up to the film’s attempt to be universally consumed, the only real downside of the film is the lackluster special effects. Much of the film utilizes very poor CGI. This comes as a big letdown for the director known for such riveting practical effects films like Gremlins and The Howling — although, maybe par for the course with some of the CGI in Gremlins 2. The make-up work on Evelyn, as she slowly decomposes, is not awful, but does look a bit tacky. It’s not enough to degrade the film but is the film’s proverbial ‘black mark.’
All in all, Burying the Ex is a welcome return to form for Dante, one his career desperately needed. Hopefully, its a sign for what is to come and he will stick with this brand of genre cinema because no one quite makes them like him. Burying the Ex isn’t quite as clever as his past films but does have that infectious, enchanting spirit. With strong performances by Yelchin and gang and a humorous if not somewhat middling script by Trezza guided by Dante’s assured directing, Burying the Ex is one of the more fun horror-comedies films of recent memory — imperfections and all, its still a high point for the genre in a post-Shaun of the Dead world.
Burying the Ex is now available on VOD AND iTUNES and is slated for an August Blu-Ray release.