The title of Zombeavers alone gives potential viewers a pretty good idea of whether they’d want to see it or not. If your first reaction is laughter or excitement, then you’ll probably get some enjoyment out of Jordan Rubin’s silly (although perhaps not silly enough) horror-comedy. But if your first reaction is to groan and shake your head, there isn’t much in the movie that’s likely to change your mind.
Still, Zombeavers is a cut above productions like Sharknado, with better acting, more successful humor, and some surprisingly decent character development and suspense. Rubin may come from a comedy background, but he plays much of the movie fairly straight, following the comedic setup. Comedian Bill Burr and an unrecognizable John Mayer play the incompetent drivers of a medical waste truck that inadvertently dumps one of its canisters in a lake full of beavers. A few days later, the requisite group of horny young people shows up at the requisite isolated cabin in the woods for a weekend of drinking, bonding, and gratuitous nudity, only to be attacked by undead flesh-eating beavers.
One thing that Rubin and co-writers Al and Jon Kaplan do well is establishing the female characters independently before their boyfriends show up, and the chemistry among leads Rachel Melvin, Cortney Palm, and Lexi Atkins is strong as they banter over one friend’s recent heartbreak and the general ickiness of the great outdoors. If nothing else, Zombeavers is a rousing success at passing the Bechdel test. But then the dudes arrive, and the typical horror-movie plot mechanics start, as the characters first scoff at and then try fend off the deadly beavers, only mounting an escape attempt when it’s far too late. Created mostly via puppetry, the beavers don’t look as creepy or menacing as they should, although the reliance on practical effects means that they look more substantial than CGI monsters.
Rubin seems to have directed his cast to take the story seriously, and there are surprisingly few self-aware jokes once Burr and Mayer disappear after the first few minutes. Instead, the humor comes out of the absurdity of the situation, as the evil beavers chew through phone lines and build a dam across the only road so that the characters can’t escape. Rubin owes more to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead than he does to spoofs like Scary Movie, from his frequent use of swooping POV shots to the structure of characters trapped in a remote cabin as evil forces close in on them (and then transform some of them).
As the story gets more outrageous, the straight-faced approach becomes less rewarding, and the outtakes before the closing credits, full of improvised jokes, offer a glimpse at a more entertaining version of the movie that would have focused more on the humor. Running less than 80 minutes (including the outtakes and the lengthy closing credits featuring an amusing lounge-style theme song that recounts the plot), Zombeavers never outstays its welcome, unlike so many one-joke, self-conscious B-movies. If Rubin follows through with a post-credits stinger setting up a sequel featuring zombie bees (Zombees?), he might have a chance to refine the balance of humor and horror more effectively.