Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Zombeavers (2014)

Written by: Al Kaplan, Jordan Rubin, Jon Kaplan
Directed by: Jordan Rubin
Cortney Palm as Zoe
Rachel Melvin as Mary
Lexi Atkins as Jenn

If there are two things almost every serious horror fan is sick to death of these days, it's stupid self-aware ironic Sci-Fi Channel/Asylum killer animal movies and goddamn zombies. Of course, sometimes writing off entire genres can come back to bite you in the ass by making you miss out on a good flick. Luckily I also have no taste and very little self-control, so even though I have no interest in the latest Sharktacondapusasaurusrexadactylarantula movie, the idea of zombie beavers was just too ridiculous for me not to give it a chance. And hey, the zombeavers are practical effects, so that's a plus.

I knew I had made a good choice from the very first scene, during which two slacker truck drivers (played by comedian Bill Burr and, I shit you not, John Mayer) hauling a load of toxic waste (I sincerely hope the people charged with moving that stuff around in real life are considerably more competent than these two) hit a deer because they're too busy texting and sharing bizarre sex stories. They're worried enough about the damage to their truck that they don't notice one of the barrels was jarred loose in the impact and rolled into the lake they're driving past. A funny and efficient setup that leads to a delightful animated credits sequence that would have let the movie skate by on that alone even if the rest of it sucked.

Now we meet our main characters, Mary, Zoe and Jenn. The three are sorority sisters, and are on the way to a cabin owned by Mary's cousins. No points for guessing it's the same lake the barrel of toxic gunk fell into a few minutes back. The vacation was originally going to be a three-couple sexathon, but Jenn discovered her boyfriend Sam cheated on her so Mary changed the guest list to girls only at the last minute. Zoe, the requisite oversexed bitchy one, also brought her dog.
The girls go swimming their first day at the cabin, where they spot a beaver lodge covered with green crud, and have a run-in with a local trapper named Smyth. He's a great character, whom we're never really supposed to be sure if the girls are safe with or not. Rex Linn plays him perfectly, and trying to figure him out is one of the highlights of the movie.

That night the girls are playing some slumber party games when they're interrupted by a loud bang at the front door. Zoe goes to investigate, but it turns out to be just the girls' boyfriends, Tommy and Buck. Except they brought along Sam. Awkward tension ensues as Jenn and Sam sit on the couch and fight about his infidelity while they listen to their friends having sex in the bedrooms. Awkward tension is broken by the appearance of what they assume to be a rabid beaver in the bathroom. Tommy beats it nearly in half with a bat and they toss it outside in a garbage bag.

The next morning, everyone decides to go for a swim. The bag on the porch is torn open and the beaver carcass is missing, but they write it off as a wild animal scavenging its supper. Things change quickly when the swimmers are surrounded by a gaggle of ravenous undead beavers. Jenn, who refused to get in the water with her scum of an ex, hauls ass back to the cabin to call for help. Unfortunately for her, the beavers chewed through the phone line, the cabin is remote enough to get no cell reception, and that bisected beaver carcass is neither as inanimate nor as eaten by scavengers as they had thought. Shortly after the rest of the group get back to the cabin (Sam further proves what an utter douche he is by using Zoe's dog for bait), they find themselves surrounded by an army of zombeavers, summoned by the one Jenn pinned to the counter with a knife slapping its tail against the cutting board. Things continue to get worse and worse for the kids until Smyth arrives with a truck load of guns and it seems they're rescued. Unfortunately, it seems the beavers have seen Creature from the Black Lagoon. What's worse, a bite or scratch from one of these little bastards works much the same way as it would from a human zombie. Notice I said much the same, not just the same.

I was expecting to have to lodge a complaint against this movie and the filmmakers, and I was dam glad to have been proven wrong.

Go ahead and finish mentally punching me in the groin, I'll wait.

Horror comedies are a notoriously difficult thing to pull off. They're frequently a fallback device used by lazy morons who don't know how to make a serious movie be any good, and figure a few dick jokes, naming some characters after famous horror directors, and misquoting a few lines of dialog from better movies will be funny enough to make the audience not notice that their movie sucks more dicks than a cheap hooker who hasn't had any meth in a week. Thankfully that's not the case here. Sure, it's not all roses. We're reminded about a dozen times too many that Rubin and the Kaplans know “beaver” can be a double entendre. Other than that though, the jokes mostly work really well, be they dialog (Sam, delivering the line deadly serious: “Guys, we can't turn on each other right now. That's just what the beavers would want!”) or be they sight gag (the Whack-a-Mole scene...holy shit the Whack-a-Mole scene).

Not only is the movie surprisingly funny, it's unexpectedly well thought out. As much care as was taken making sure most of the jokes worked, an equal amount of care was taken on the structure of the script. A great deal of the material is setup for things that pay off later, and not just from a punchline standpoint. The filmmakers made sure their story made sense (and that they actually had a story), flowed well, and that we gave a damn about the characters (and just as much credit for this last goes to the actors, who all put in some fine work). There are some nice twists and turns of character that make our protagonists come to life in nuanced and multi-dimensional ways that you don't often see in this type of movie. Some of the scare scenes even have a bit of a kick to them. No matter how intentionally silly the beaver puppets look, being attacked by animals in the woods is one of the most ancient and deep-seated fears in the history of mankind, and even the clumsiest filmmaker would have a hard time making glowing eyes in the dark just outside your windows not look at least a little creepy.

You'll also want to stay through the end credits. From the fun outtakes, to the silly lounge music theme song, to the (literal) stinger scene, it's all worth a look. And keep an eye out for the No Animals Were Harmed disclaimer.

There you have it. Zombeavers is that rarest of animals, a horror comedy that works as both things. The emphasis is definitely more on the comedy side of things, but there's enough gore splattered around to keep the hardcore fiends happy too. If you've been hankerin' for some yuks with your yucks and other recent entries in the subgenre like WolfCop left you feeling a little cold, check this one out. I think you'll be glad you did.

1 comment:

  1. Yes! I love this movie! And I usually hate horror comedies, but this one is great. I think a big part of it is that the movie mostly plays it straight--there aren't many "wink, nudge" moments. The director was content to let the humor flow naturally from the sheer absurdity of the situation.

    The movie is also a testament to the benefits of practical effects. The beavers are fantastic. Even though they are obviously puppets (and adorable puppets, at that--I totally want a zombeaver puppet), they are oddly effective monsters.

    And the opening credit sequence alone is worth the price of admission.