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Zombeavers

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<i>Zombeavers</i>

It sounds like immediate condemnation to say that the best part of Zombeavers is the swanky lounge song that plays over the film’s end credits, but that’s not entirely true. Although the film can’t quite overcome its shoestring budget often enough to frighten or provoke laughs at a steady clip, there are effective nuggets of both that one can mine out to salvage the experience. Rather, acknowledging the song is simply giving one more credit where credit is due, because it manages to make one’s last impression of Zombeavers a bemused chuckle and head shake, at right about the time the Bill Murray-like lounge singer belts:

“So board up the doorways and windows my friend / It won’t do any good / Those furry round bastards are fully equipped / They’ll chew right through the wood.”

That little snippet is indicative of Zombeavers in its scattered handful of effective moments, which viewers may need to be on their toes to catch. The experience as a whole is a bit like rifling through moldy sandwiches at an automat, occasionally finding a side of fries you’re reasonably sure won’t make you ill. You need to be a little persistent, to let the duds wash over you and go on their merry way. Sticking around with any one joke too long will simply result in disgust or the nagging, difficult-to-answer question of “Why am I watching this again?”

Zombeavers is the feature-length film debut of director Jordan Rubin, and would certainly seem to share some Sharknado DNA, sporting the kind of mash-up Comic-Con tee shirt title that one can imagine marketers must have hoped would immediately turn it into an overnight Internet sensation. And maybe if it was premiering on Syfy, that would be the case, but Zombeavers is instead having its premiere today largely through VOD (including Amazon/iTunes) and a very limited theatrical run. And it feels like a movie going straight to VOD (the modern equivalent of straight-to-video clearance rack), for sure. In stretches, it feels like a film school class project that’s managing to overachieve just a tiny bit.

The set-up you could probably rattle off to me without having seen the film or its trailer—toxic waste spill creates zombeavers. College girls head to cabin in the woods for a weekend. Horny boyfriends show up. Everyone has sex and argues, right up to the moment where people start getting eaten by beavers. References to Return of the Living Dead in particular abound. Clichés are embraced in a fond, “Hey you old so-and-so, how have you been?!” sort of way.

The early man vs. beaver scenes are hurt somewhat by the film’s budgetary limitations and the general goofiness of the killer beaver puppets/animatronics being applied. I feel like a hypocrite on some level for criticizing the practical effects at all, given my strong support for practical effects in horror movies over cheap, soulless CGI, but the issues here stem from the lack of articulation and interactive ability that these little beavers possess. It must have been a difficult decision to decide between this and the style of CGI that one would see in an Asylum feature on Syfy, and ultimately, the filmmakers likely made the right decision, if only because it gives Zombeavers a slightly more unique flavor. Still, it’s pretty damn hard for the characters to legitimately interact with the monsters, which leads to several instances of off-camera action (with varying levels of creativity). What you end up with is a film that heavily favors the “comedy” half of “zomcom” for most of its runtime.

The comedy is likewise very uneven, desperately attempting to hit some kind of raunchy tone situated halfway between the punk kids from Return of the Living Dead and the teens of American Pie. Like ROTLD, there’s plenty of nudity (including about .5 seconds of penis), but it’s perfunctory and shoe-horned into the proceedings in the most non-erotic ways—yes, actress Cortney Palm looks great without a shirt, but could we perhaps work it in to not feel like 110 percent coerced fan service? She’s center-framed and staring right at the audience, for god’s sake. Linnea Quigley’s breasts seemed less hackneyed than this, somehow, and that was meant to be totally shameless.

There’s absolutely no shortage of jokes—at times there’s almost too many, delivered in an unexpectedly dry, deadpan style that almost evokes single-camera sitcoms like The Office. Characters spout absurdisms but don’t deign to react to each other’s lines of dialog—it’s as if they’re being offered directly to the audience like a stand-up routine. A lot of them thud, but perhaps one in five elicits a genuine chuckle—not the worst ratio in the world for a movie like this. There’s even a bit of self-aware meta humor, with one of the girls asking, “Can we please stop with the beaver jokes?” (Nice touch there, Zombeavers.) On the other end of the spectrum, you have a female character asking ANOTHER female, “Why are girls so attracted to assholes?” I don’t know, male writer who obviously hatched that gem—here’s hoping you figure it out someday.

The final 20-30 minutes is the film’s strongest portion, however, because that’s when things unexpectedly go off the rails of convention and into a delightfully weird territory. I’ll admit I did not see the twist coming whatsoever, through some combination of distraction or being lulled into complacency, but the film takes an abrupt, hard left turn in the last fourth, and this is to its credit. I won’t spoil it, but suffice to say that if you fast-forwarded to roughly that point, you wouldn’t miss a terrible lot. By the time the final shots roll, a bizarre stylistic change has come over the movie, recalling shots from the likes of High Tension or Martyrs. These influences aren’t present for long, but they’re what I’ll remember.

Well, that and the Zombeavers lounge song.

Director: Jordan Rubin
Writers: Jordan Rubin, Al Kaplan, Jon Kaplan
Starring: Rachel Melvin, Hutch Dano, Cortney Palm, Lexi Atkins, Jake Weary, Peter Gilroy
Release: March 20, 2015 on VOD and limited theaters


Jim Vorel is Paste’s news editor and is game to watch just about anything with “zombie” in the title, which is good because the post-credits sequence of this movie seems to suggest a possible “zom-bees” sequel. You can follow him on Twitter.