Burying The Ex, Joe Dante’s low-budget take on millennial relationship anxiety, mines the EC Comics-influenced vein of small-screen horror anthologies like Tales From The Crypt and Tales From The Darkside, but chucks out the corresponding cynicism. Here, Max (Anton Yelchin), longtime employee of Bloody Mary’s costume shop, is saved from having to break up with his girlfriend, Evelyn (Ashley Greene), when she gets splattered by a city bus. Ready to date again after a brief period of mourning, Max starts seeing fellow movie geek Olivia (Alexandra Daddario), only to have Evelyn return from the dead, having clawed her way out of her grave.
Tweaking the archetype of the castrating, controlling girlfriend, Burying The Ex paints Max and Evelyn’s relationship as founded exclusively on sex, with the decaying, resurrected Evelyn wanting nothing more than for Max to engage in some consensual necrophilia. Nestled between the gross-out gags (e.g., projectile-vomited embalming fluid) and variably convincing gore is an earnest paean to relationships founded on mutual interests—Val Lewton, the Ramones, Hammer horror—and a respect for individual needs and desires. Were this not a Joe Dante movie, Max and Olivia would probably bond over his work, too.
Out of all the great live-action cartoon stylists, Dante seems to have the most fun playing fast and loose with the iconography of the American mundane, and here he manages to find time for wood-paneled station wagons, ice-cream shops, and some of the most cartoonishly awful entry-level jobs this side of Gremlins 2. (Bloody Mary’s employees are required to greet customers with “Ghoul morning,” while Evelyn works the phones at a start-up called Live Green Or Blog Hard.) But the energy is fitful, and despite his low-budget roots as an editor and director for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, one gets the sense that Dante’s gifts are better served by big sandbox productions like the underrated Looney Tunes: Back In Action, which allow him to pursue any and every idea.
There’s a reason stories like these are usually told in anthologies. In spite of its modest running time, Burying The Ex feels stretched thin; it takes a good 35 minutes to get going, only kicking into gear once Evelyn returns from the dead. (The over-reliance on Oliver Cooper’s character—a stoner slob who uses Max’s apartment as a sex pad—as a comic foil doesn’t help.) But as is often the case with great filmmakers at their less-than-best, Dante still manages to pop out with some superbly demented gags, be it a book on exorcism randomly pulled from a bookshelf (Straight To Hades: A Guide To Ridding Of The Unwanted Undead, by Baron Romanoff III, Ph.D, Esq) or a Viking-themed clothing chain with the motto “Once you go Norse, you’ll have no remorse.”