With certainty, the hallmark of any Joe Dante film is an exploration of the sci-fi, fantasy and horror genres, but always with an oddly comedic slant. In Burying the Ex, Dante has recalled the most offbeat of his cadre of films, including Gremlins, Explorers and The ’Burbs. The film stars Anton Yelchin as Max and Ashley Greene as Evelyn, who literally comes out of the grave to haunt her ex-boyfriend (played by Yelchin) with whom she has recently broken up.
For Dante and his genre contemporaries, including John Landis, John Carpenter and George Romero among others, projects such as Burying the Ex always begin with the untapped potential in a screenplay, usually written on spec. “I was handed it by the writer eight years ago,” Dante said about screenwriter Alan Trazza and his Burying the Ex script. “I liked the characters and humor. People could relate to a relationship that wasn’t good for them.”
Surely, with the superb Yelchin, whose range in genre films has delivered knockout performances in everything from Terminator: Salvation to the recent Star Trek films, and the stunning Greene, Dante had two dynamic leads, another seal of a Dante film: spot-on casting. “85% of the movie is casting,” he stated. “You can make a movie like this in 20 days. It’s the way the audience perceives the story: if you want to watch these people, your movie is OK. Everything is going to depend on it.”
Less familiar than Yelchin is Green who has worked regularly in smaller film parts and TV shows since 2007 but seems now destined to explode in major roles. “Because of the way we cast it, she was a gorgeous girl, very overpowering,” Dante explained of Greene’s notable screen magnetism. “When she comes back, her sex drive is elevated. That’s the last thing [Yelchin] wants to do. When you add that, you get into an I Love Lucy that you don’t always find in zombie movies.”
On that point, though Evelyn has risen from the grave and gradually decomposes on screen, much of Burying the Ex is darkly twisted and always comical. “The movies that I make fall into a pattern,” Dante said of his career which is approaching 40 years of directorial efforts. “I have an absurdist world view. You can laugh or you can cry. It’s a lot healthier to laugh. My take is a little offbeat. All of those movies could have been done as straight movies, but that wouldn’t have gotten the best out of the material.”
Throughout the film, Greene’s subtly menacing Evelyn haunts Yelchin’s Max in a way unlike any ex-significant other on film, though somehow, Green remains beautiful in the proceedings. “You have to cut off her nose to make her look bad,” Dante quipped. “Part of that is casting, and part is Gary Tunnicliffe the makeup guy. We had to know which stage of decomposition she was in. Ashley was a trooper. Every so often, there’s a CGI enhancement. Good CGI is not supposed to look like CGI.”
Considering his coterie of friends who have made films in the same genre from the 1970s to the present, Dante reflected upon their close bond. “I’ve known John [Landis] since the mid-1970s,” Dante revealed. “We have very similar tastes and sense of humor. We’ve worked together on movies.”
As Dante has spun the genre for almost four decades now, he expressed being content with his compendium of choices past and present. “Once you’ve been successful for a certain type of material, you are typed,” he said. “Some people made a lot of Westerns. Whatever they were successful for, they are going back to. This genre is second nature for me. I try to put a twist in, or look at it slightly askew. The movies I’ve made, I can stand behind them.”