When reacting to the trailer for Joe Dante’s Burying the Ex, I remarked that it could be interesting to use the zombie story as a metaphor for a doomed or stale relationship. This film barrels down that road with fervor, and the result is an awkward on-screen relationship that despite literally decaying, just will not die. The film opens with Max (Anton Yelchin) and Evelyn (Ashley Greene) clinging to a relationship that just doesn’t work. They are horribly mismatched from the get-go: she is a vegan tree-hugger with a cause and a blog, and he works at a Halloween shop and loves monster movies and gore. Thankfully, we don’t waste time discovering how these two got together or see the early parts of their relationship, we just see the death throes. It is annoying that the only thing keeping them together from Max’s perspective is the sex – but even the melt-your-face sexiness of Evelyn isn’t enough after she re-decorates their apartment and forces him to go vegan with her, to his credit. When he finally decides to pull the trigger, and he sets up the breakup location, Evelyn is killed while crossing the street.
Max is still distraught, as he now feels responsible for her death, a clear stand-in for dumper’s guilt. Sure, he wanted the relationship to end, but he definitely wanted it to be as painless as possible. Eventually, he leaves the apartment and runs into Olivia (Alexandra Daddario) and goes on an impromptu date with her where they discover that they are really into each other. They are on their way to sexy time when Olivia cautions that they should slow down, so Max leaves her and heads upstairs to his apartment . . . where Zombie Evelyn is waiting for him! What was once very difficult for him (dumping her), is now almost impossible, as he feels even more powerless in her presence. Perhaps this is a continuation of the relationship on life-support: if you don’t end it completely, it becomes harder and harder to finally sever those ties and easier to settle into the inertia of routine.
This is definitely the case for Max, who attempts to juggle his budding relationship with Olivia and his dying one with Evelyn, who comes up with a brilliant plan: to kill Max and turn him into a zombie so that they can live together forever. Most of the tension in this second act comes from Max struggling with either hiding Zombie Evelyn from Olivia, or avoiding the undead and unwanted sexual advances from his zombie ex. In this act, the movie feels like it is just spinning some wheels until the conflict comes to a head, so I feel like more could have been done in this area, either by ramping up some of the disgusting body-horror, or giving Evelyn more to do than wait around for sex.
Eventually, though, Max does choose to stand up to Zombie Evelyn. The resulting struggle dramatizes the pain and betrayal that all dumpees feel (at least when it comes out of left field) only with more head-stabbing and gore (umm, hopefully). Zombies in general are becoming quite overplayed nowadays, and there are even a handful of zombie movies that take a more emotional or relationship bent (like Warm Bodies or Life After Beth). Burying the Ex distinguishes itself from these other films by creating developing the zombie story into unwanted relationship drama – a perfect allegory for stale but undying romantic relationships. In that context, it is an interesting idea, and for a horror-comedy B-movie, Burying the Ex definitely follows through on its initial promise. Check it out if you get the chance.