Is there anything better than a 80s style creature feature? I know that slashers are always popular, but there are few that get that formula right. If they do, they hug it so tight that the movie can and does become on huge cliche. CGI and creature features don’t play well together either. It ruins the experience. Give me a rubber little furry monster messing with protagonists and you’ve got me hooked.
Zombeavers made its festival run last year and has finally landed on Netflix for some summer fun. I’m not sure whether I’d classify it as a comedy horror, but it has a tone close to it. It’s reminiscent of some great movies (Critters, Return of the Living Dead), but almost ruins this atmosphere by trying to be funny (Sharknado). In the end, though, it’s a damn fun watch. First time director Jordan Rubin walks the line nicely between comedy and horror. I’m definitely looking forward to what else he has coming our way.
Sorority sisters Mary (Rachel Melvin), Zoe (Courtney Palm), and Jenn (Lexi Atkins) are trying to get away for a weekend at Mary’s family’s cabin on the lake. Jenn found out her boyfriend Sam (Hutch Dano) was cheating on her when he was tagged on Instagram making out with some girl. While Jenn attempts to take solace in her friends, Zoe is looking to make it a party. She invites her boyfriend Buck (Peter Gilroy) there behind her sisters back…who shows up with Sam and (Mary’s boyfriend) Tommy (It Follows’ Jake Weary).
Unbeknownst to the group, a recent accident (with some very unexpected cameo appearances) has sent a barrel of toxic/medical waste down the river. The barrel gets stuck in a beaver dam and begins to leak. This either mutates or zombifies the beavers into nasty little carnivorous creatures with green glowing eyes. It also raises their IQ a few points apparently because the zombeavers know to chew on telephone cords and electrical wires.
Zombeavers is not quite horror and not quite comedy. It doesn’t quite hit that sweet spot that Return of the Living Dead hit, but it comes close on occasion. It’s reminded me the most of Critters (where the monsters were fun to watch but their actions were horrific). The movie does understand pacing and how to do horror correct though. We have a build up until we see our first zombeaver. There’s a lull after the group’s first encounter. But, then we get two out and out assaults by the creatures in two very different settings. One of the most impressive story writing aspects was understanding that the assaults are not going to keep the audience entertained: The characters needed to be separated and the stakes risen. That was one of my favorite parts of ROTLD as well: We have two groups experiencing two perspectives. By doing this, the writers can properly foreshadow what is going to happen to Group A without alerting Group B.
One of the most frustrating parts of Zombeavers was how close it came to parodying itself though. The group is as cliche as you can get, but that is easily forgivable. It was the sarcastic remarks that were taken to extreme. For example, while boarding up the house, Sam goes on a sarcastic tirade of attempted one liners. It doesn’t work well in the moment, and combine that with Mary’s delicate stabbing style, it just seems off. Zoe, however, is the one line machine at the beginning and settles down as the movie progresses. One of the best jokes comes from Smyth (Rex Linn). It’s a simple one liner uttered in the truck, but it works. There are similar lines his character spouts off that just don’t work. Horror comedy cannot be forced. It has to be natural enough to not spoil the mood while unexpected enough to get a chuckle from the audience.
All in all, Zombeavers is very fun. Rubin paces it well, and he holds the film back from being a complete parody of itself. He understands story telling, and pulls the audience along by the teeth until the end. While the comedy can be over the top on occasion, it really works well for the most part. Is this a perfect film? Nope…but it’s a great first film him. I’m looking forward to more, and I’m liking this trend of plastic little creatures haunting my screen again.