Editor’s Notes: Burying the Ex is currently out in limited theatrical release.
There’s a point in Burying the Ex, Joe Dante’s latest would-be horror-comedy romp, where Max, the genre-obsessed clerk at its centre, justifies his fondness: “It challenges us to stop accepting the world, and y’know, face our inner monster, and finds the strengths to conquer it”. There’s an unseemly cynicism to his girlfriend’s response when she labels this “a bit of a stretch”, but faced with a film like this it gets easier to agree. Whether intent on accessing that effect itself or just gesturing to the forebears that did so before, this earnestly-energetic effort never hits much of a stride in either of the tones into which it dips its toes, making for a movie whose unabashed affection for others only makes us wish we were with them instead.
This earnestly-energetic effort never hits much of a stride in either of the tones into which it dips its toes, making for a movie whose unabashed affection for others only makes us wish we were with them instead.
That sort of audience affair is apt given the plot here, in which Max’s efforts to woo a fellow horror film-fiend are considerably complicated by the return of his recently-departed ex from the grave. Brazenly silly and played straight for laughs, the gag hangs as much on the icky idea of a nubile-necrophile switch-up as on the array of awkward circumstances that come (un)naturally to follow, but writer Alan Trezza has neither the comic chops nor the pace to his plot to get anything more than tired titters out of the conceit. That he’s adapting from his own short, perhaps, explains Dante’s presence; it’s not hard to imagine this idea as effective if kept to only one-sixth the length.
But alas, alack, it’s been spread thinner than Max’s patience for this absurd circumstance, and Dante’s amiable efforts to make the most can’t do much with a script so insubstantial. It’s a long while since he touched R-rated territory—amidst regular TV work, this is only his third feature since the turn of the century—and the lingering tone of the family-friendly fare stays oddly intact: for every efficient instance of post-mortem gore, there’s a strained sex gag it’s hard to imagine anyone outside of a party of pre-teens enjoying. They’ll like it a lot, if that’s the bar to clear: Trezza’s screenplay seems at times a non-stop parade of lowest common denominator leering.
The gag hangs as much on the icky idea of a nubile-necrophile switch-up as on the array of awkward circumstances that come (un)naturally to follow.
Only the most insistent auteur apologetics, though, could lay blame solely at his feet, and for all the setbacks inherent in what he’s been handed, Dante’s embellishments add plenty fault of their own. Whether with the dodgy digital descent that opens the film in a flood of half-finished effects or an editorial eye that’s far more fit to TV transitions, this is the work of a director demonstrably dated in his style. “Where’s the blood, where’s the gore, where’s the viscera?” asks a character dejectedly at one point, and he seems to speak for the audience too. But more to the point, for a director who used to trade so freely therein, all you can ask is: where’s the fun?
It’s unfolding off-screen, in the double bills of Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie Max and his new love interest run into each other outside. What a frustrating experience it is to sit through so staid an effort when all involved so clearly know what great films of this ilk are like. The only moments in which Burying the Ex comes alive are those wherein Dante cuts to scenes of a sadistic Christopher Lee—expect grateful cheers in every cinema screen—in Mario Bava’s The Whip and the Body. “You always loved violence,” he intones in that immortal baritone of his. We don’t need the ample posters scattered throughout the film’s sets to recognise Dante’s adoration for all things horror. Would that he still had the sensibility to share it.
What a frustrating experience it is to sit through so staid an effort when all involved so clearly know what great films of this ilk are like.