Tribeca: Is Zombeavers The Next Sharknado?
Having grown up in the '80s, I hold a special place in my heart for creature features. Gremlins was a gateway drug to Critters and Ghoulies. I've chased down titles like Arachnophobia, Jack Frost, Black Sheep and Piranha Part Two: The Spawning, all for the practical effects and puppets that were both creepy and funny. So, I was pretty stoked for Zombeavers to hit the Tribeca Film Festival with its promise of blood-drenched puppets and outrageousness. But there's something crucial missing here that keeps it from being as fun as the titles that served as the centerpieces to slumber parties and DIY midnight movie marathons.
The directorial debut of Crank Yankers's writer Jordan Rubin, Zombeavers begins in the familiar setting of a rural cabin that sits beside a seemingly placid lake. This is the isolated vacation spot where college co-eds Mary (Rachel Melvin), Zoe (Cortney Palm) and Jenn (Lexi Atkins) are taking a weekend away from boys, cellphones, and their troubles. But as night falls, their boyfriends drop by, followed soon after by even less-welcomed party-crashers, a pack of relentless, bloodthirsty, and mutated beavers. Now, these friends must band together to survive the night of the living zombeavers.
First off, the performances in Zombeavers are terrible, which on some level should be expected. But there's a difference between the pleasingly terrible--like Palm's inability to maintain whatever accent it is she's sporadically attempting--and the buzzkill terrible--like the cast's stunning inability to look frightened. They scream. They cry. But when they hear an actual bump in the night, Rubin cuts to a dog that is jumping up alert, seemingly because his actresses can't muster surprise. Without this simple element, Zombeavers struggles to stir up any sense of tension, much less genuine scares.
The real stars are undoubtedly the zombeavers. I just wish we saw more of them and less of the grating humans they are making into meals. The puppet mechanisms are decent, and the look of these monsters is solidly disgusting. They get great character moments, and prove surprisingly believable terrors. The writers (Rubin, Al Kaplan and Jon Kaplan) even managed some inventive and funny setups for their attacks, including one that resembles a nightmarish real-life whack-a-mole with seething beavers popping up through floorboards. But there's a shocking lack of energy to the proceedings that hurts the comedy of this increasingly preposterous plotline. Too much of Zombeavers feels flat instead of electrifyingly bonkers.
Zombeavers tried to embrace its stupid premise with allusions to Jaws and predictable plays on the double-meaning of "beaver." Yet it never quite gets at what makes creature features so fun. It's not just that they are stupid, and occasionally so poorly made that it's laughable. It's that the monsters might seem silly out of context, but the stakes are life and death! The stakes here are never grounded, in part because of the lack of energy from the cast, and in part because the script is dedicatedly sloppy with no apparent awareness to the sub genre's finer points. It's characters aren't even recognizable stereotypes, and their actions make little to no sense other than filling the runningtime with dirty words, sex and violence.
It feels like Zombeavers's writers saw Sharknado and its instant online popularity and thought it'd be easy to replicate something so bad that it's good. But there's a special magic to a movie like Sharknado, and that lies in its earnestness. For all its faults, Ian Ziering sells that he is afraid that sharks will fly out of a tornado and kill his family. It's insane. It's incredibly stupid. And you know what? It's wildly entertaining. Ultimately, Zombeavers is just two out three.
From a title like Zombeavers, you'd probably expect a creature feature studded with gore, goofiness, and perhaps some T&A, right? Well, if that's all you're hoping for from this horror-comedy, you'll be satisfied. Zombeavers delivers in being wacky and graphic. It's just a shame it doesn't aspire to be anything more, like spirited, smart or frightening.
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