Fantasia 2014

Fantasia 2014

Fantasia International Film Festival 2014 runs July 17 to August 6. Follow all of our coverage here.

Let’s just get this out of the way right up front. Yes, Zombeavers is about zombie-beavers. No, they don’t look even the slightest bit realistic. Yes, you’re still going to love this movie anyway.

Three sorority sisters head to a remote cabin by a lake for a girls weekend away from the boys. The trip was motivated by the recent revelation that Jenn’s (Lexi Atkins) boyfriend cheated on her with an unknown skank leading Mary (Rachel Melvin) to organize the weekend to help her friend heal. Zoe (Cortney Palm) is just along for the ride and the possibility of a full-body tan. Their plans are interrupted by two types of mammals. First, their boyfriends arrive looking to set up camp in the girls’ vaginas, and then the undead beavers show up looking for food.

So yes, it essentially follows the old horror trope about the dangers of young people mixing wood and beavers.

The opening featuring two fools driving a truck loaded with toxic waste gives a taste of the film’s humor while also rushing us through the only explanation we’ll need for the laughs and carnage to come. A barrel of the green goo ends up lodged and leaking against a beaver dam. That’s it, and that’s perfectly fine. The opening credits sequence actually feels very much in the spirit of Return of the Living Dead‘s opening — playful and energetic score accompanying images of the toxic waste heading towards its target — and that’s the perfect state of mind to be in for all that follows.

Zombeavers is horror/comedy with the emphasis on the latter, but it still manages a jump scare or two along the way. One of the reasons it’s not that horrific is the creature design. The bloodletting and gore are well done throughout, but the beavers? They take a bit of imagination and acceptance on your part to see them as living, breathing creatures. But that’s an intentional part of the film’s charm. Larry Fessenden’s Beneath tried a similar approach with its carnivorous carp, but it was a tonal mismatch with the film it occupied. Here though the goofy-looking beavers have made a home in a goofy-ass movie.

Director Jordan Rubin co-wrote the film alongside Al Kaplan and Jon Kaplan (the brothers also composed the score), and while the movie isn’t a spoof — this is no Scary Movie VII — it is playing fast and loose with the seriousness of the situation. It’s also playing with a real awareness of the horror genre. There are some groaners among the “jokes,” but most of them hit their mark. They have some fun with the innuendo of the word “beaver,” but they know when to move on to greener pastures too. Those pastures being the actual beavers who, like the film, look silly but are actually surprisingly smart as evidenced by their taking out the phone lines and plotting other moves against their human targets.

The writing trio know their horror and hit several beats (like a Jaws homage) with a knowing wink and without losing control of their creation. They’re especially tested in the film’s third act when events become even more bonkers and ridiculous, but just as you begin shaking your head and saying “well that’s a bit too absurd” some new image appears that forces you to simply go along with it all.

The cast members are all on-board for the gory and ridiculous antics, and many of the laughs owe as much to the delivery as to the script. “We can’t start turning on each other,” says one character, “that’s what the beavers want.” Lines like this are spoken with serious conviction and a twinkle in the eye, and the result is a fairly steady stream of hilarity packed tight in an 89 minute running time. A couple of the performances are a bit dodgy at times, but the ones who are on are on fire. Palm is the film’s standout and deserving of big things as she delivers one hell of a horror heroine. Funny, sexy and fully capable of kicking ass, she becomes the unlikely focus of your attention and concern even as more traditional characters dance around her.

And no, I’m not just saying that because she goes topless. Twice.

Zombeavers really shouldn’t be as much fun as it is — the “monsters” are, quite literally, hand puppets — but the old-school charm combined with real wit, a reasonably sharp script and lots of gory goodness make for a memorable and often hilarious movie. It’s a B-movie through and through, and there’s not a damned thing wrong with that.

The Upside: Funny, smart, consistently entertaining; self aware and self loving; Cortney Palm; fantastically crafted sight gags and dialogue; mostly practical effects

The Downside: Maybe a bit too comfortable with their unrealistic beavers; some rough acting at times; some sketchy digital work

On the Side: Keep an eye out for a mustachioed John Mayer in a very funny cameo.

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