Saturday, October 31, 2015

HubrisWeen 2015, Day 26: Zombeavers (2014)

Sometimes, you hear a movie idea and it is like nails on a chalkboard in your mind. You just know that there is no way that anyone could think of that idea and think it was a good idea. Zombeavers was one such idea for me.

Now, this was not so much because I find the idea of zombie beavers unappealing. Rather, it was the assumption that there was no way a movie based on that concept would be anything but an obnoxious, one-joke concept.

Well, let me just say that I always love being proved wrong.

I have to say the opening is not the most promising start, though. We see a medical and toxic waste transport truck cruising down the road (which sadly is not from a company named "Uneeda") and the two guys inside the cab have a conversation about the driver (Bill Burr) taking his girlfriend to get an abortion and then casually mentions having once dated a guy so that the guy in the passenger seat (John Mayer, yes that John Mayer) can try to basically hint at maybe they should date, then. The driver then begins texting, ignoring the passenger's halfhearted warning about the deer in the road.

While the deer is killed by the impact, the only damage the truck suffers is that a single barrel of chemicals falls off the bed and immediately rolls down into the river. The two morons don't notice, of course. And the film delivers its first pleasant surprise as the credits roll over the footage of the barrels floating in the river, accompanied by a cartoon super-imposed on the live-action footage. It's a neat little detail. Eventually the barrel comes to rest at a beaver dam and, as the puppet beavers look at the curious metal object, it promptly springs a leak and sprays them with a green liquid.

"Welp, that's a new one, eh, Earl?"
"Sure is, Ted."
Meanwhile, at a gas station bathroom, college girl Jenn (Lexi Atkins) is tearfully texting her boyfriend, who has apparently cheated on her. After she exits the bathroom, and has an awkward run-in with a trucker, she rejoins her friend Mary (Rachel Melvin) at their car. They're on their way to a cabin owned by Mary's cousin, along with third friend Zoe (Courtney Palm) and her Jack Russell terrier, Gosling. If looked at in typical slasher terms, Jenn seems like a typical Final Girl, Mary is the nerdy girl, and Zoe is the promiscuous one.

In fact, Zoe is very annoyed that they had to make this trip a girl's weekend after Jenn's boyfriend cheated on her. Zoe had really been looking forward to some fun time with her boyfriend, but while she may tease Jenn about the issue and even complains about the lack of sexual opportunities, she is a good enough friend to still go along with the new plan and the rules of no boys and no phones. We can tell that Zoe is the least used to being in the countryside because she thinks the raft in the lake near the cabin is floating garbage upon first sighting it.

As the three friends drive up to the cabin, we see a teenage boy fishing in the river get taken out by a POV cam as a threat-establishing casualty.

Once at the cabin, the girls get to meet the neighbor, Myrne Gregorson (Phyllis Katz) and her husband Winston (Brent Brisxcoe), who's watching from their porch with the couple's golden retriever. Myrne mentions that she hasn't seen Mary in ages. Zoe's brash tongue makes the conversation a bit awkward but, unsurprisingly, the old lady is just as brash. Once she departs, they all go inside to pick rooms and freshen up. To the horror of Jenn and Zoe, it turns out that the "no phones" rule is going to be very easy to enforce because there is no signal in the area.

"I'm just saying, if we had a talking Great Dane we could be a team of young detectives!"
The three decide to go swimming and, to Jenn and Mary's annoyance, Zoe does so topless. Still, it's going fine until Jenn sees a beaver dam and wants to go investigate. The three swim over to the dam and discover it is covered in a revolting green residue that Zoe assumes to be beaver urine. Lucky for them, they don't actually encounter the beavers as a lurking POV cam watches them from the water--but they do find themselves confronted by a bear.

As the three slowly back away, a shot rings out and the bear runs off. A hunter who introduces himself as "Smyth, with a Y" (Rex Linn) then appears. And the guy is delightfully unnerving as he tells them they weren't in any danger from the bear, says some weird things about beavers, and then tells them they ought to be more covered up--and he doesn't just means the woman with no top on.

The girls take their leave of him as fast as they can. At the cabin that night they eat popcorn and play a truly sick game of "Would you rather?" since apparently nobody packed Cards Against Humanity. Then it shifts to truth or dare and we learn here that the last time they played that Mary and Jenn made out, but Jenn objects that that's no fun without guys around to make jealous. Mary thinsk the lady doth protest too much, but as she jokingly moves in for a kiss there's a loud thump outside.

Zoe goes to check with the flashlight and disappears. Mary and Jenn go out to find her, but the door gets blown shut and they're locked outside. Then a shadowy figure charges up--and farts at them. Their attacker is actually Mary's boyfriend, Tommy (Jake Weary). Mary wants to know how he even got there, and the answer appears in the form of Buck (Peter Gilroy) who is carrying Zoe to the porch. Seems he practically dragged Tommy to the cabin, despite the insistence that Mary had warned him that it was just a girl's weekend. Naturally, Zoe is not entirely blameless in this.

And then, to Jenn's disgust, her duplicitous boyfriend, Sam (Hutch Dano) appears from inside the cabin, carrying a baseball bat. Mary tries to be the good friend and send the guys away, despite Zoe and Buck begging to be allowed to bang. Jenn, however, says it's okay. After all, it'll be good for her to face the problem head-on. Though I'm sure she didn't really intend for her and Sam to have to sit on the couch in the living room and listen to the other couples loudly having sex.

Jenn shows Sam the photographic proof of his philandering--a tagged photo of him from a party the weekend before, kissing a brunette whose face is obscured. Sam either can't or won't tell her who the woman in the photo is. And his attempt to seduce her into forgetting her anger ends with him getting a knee to the groin. To be fair, he did deserve that. Meanwhile, in the afterglow Tommy notices Mary seems distracted, which she shrugs off as concern for Jenn.

Jenn goes to take a shower, but as she's undressing she hears something thumping in the bathtub. She assumes it's Buck--that guy must be a real perv, if that's her default assumption--but it's a beaver. A very vicious beaver with white eyes that tries to attack her. It leaps at her but luckily it's clumsy or it might have been able to take a bite out of her.

"I told you never to flush when I'm in the shower!"
Jenn flees to the living room to get Sam's help. The others arrive to find out what's going on and when she tells them about the rabid beaver they all go to investigate, but now it's nowhere to be seen. Buck begins mocking her--only for the beaver to lunge out of a cupboard and try to attack him. Tommy beats it to a pulp with the baseball bat, but it takes a lot of punishment before it stops moving. Tommy tosses it into a garbage bag and leaves it on the porch. Jenn wants to leave right away, but the others talk her into sleeping on it. She agrees, but demands to sleep with Mary for the night. Unbeknownst to them, the garbage bag on the porch is moving...

The next morning, as they head outside to go swimming, Jenn notices the bloody garbage bag is torn open and there are bloody pawprints leading away from it. Tommy dismisses it as nothing but a scavenger finding the corpse and absconding with it. Jenn is not so sure, and feels weird about going in the water, but the others assure her it's fine. She asks them to quit making the obvious beaver jokes and also stays put on the bank instead of joining them in the water.

On the raft, Sam talks to Mary about the mysterious photo that Jenn showed him. Seems that both of them know exactly who was in the photo. He asks if Mary is going to tell Jenn it was her, since she would believe it if Mary says it was nothing, but Mary would rather her friend not hate her. Sam begins to think maybe they need to talk about it, since it sounds to him like maybe it wasn't nothing,

No time for that, though. As soon as Jenn gives in to peer pressure and wades into the water, something swims past her foot. The others mock her until Buck goes under suddenly--and resurfaces holding his own severed foot. Cue Jaws-style trombone shot on Jenn, Tommy is attacked next but he, Buck, and Zoe manage to make it to the raft just as another beaver leaps out to bite Buck on the shoulder until Tommy tosses it away.

Tommy ties a tourniquet around Buck's leg using Gsoling's life-vest. Then Zoe notices Jenn is gone. Well, she ran back to the cabin to call for help with the landline, but the phone lines have been torn out by the beavers. And now the others are not only surrounded by several beavers in the water, they're trying to break through the raft to get at them.

"Look, just take the wood and let us go!"
Meanwhile, the beaver from the night before scratches Jen on the calf and she finds herself wrestling with it on the kitchen floor. The others, seeing their chances at survival rapidly dwindling, begin to get desperate--so Sam decides to be the asshole who makes the unpopular decision of throwing Golsing into the lake as a diversion. Well, as you might imagine, the dog is not able to outswim the beavers and as they're eating him, the others make a swim fro shore,

Jenn has managed to cut the beaver in half, but even with its hind half dnagling by threads of sinew it still chases her up onto the kitchen island. She finally pins it to the the tabletop with a knife to the skull. She then opens the door to the cabin just as the others rush in, the beavers hot on their heels. So now that night is falling, the group realizes they are trapped in a cabin surrounded by beavers who want flesh and whose very biology means it'll only be a matter of time before they chew through the wooden cabin to get at them, and they have all the evidence they need on the counter top that these beavers are actually zombies.

Though they have no idea what's coming. For we all know that if a zombie bites you, you turn into a zombie--but what do you turn into when a zombie beaver bites you?

Never hire a mad scientist to be your orthodontist.
I'm going to cut this review short here because I genuinely think Zombeavers is best experienced without knowing everything that happens. Now, I don't think this film is nearly as good as Late Phases and it is certainly nowhere near as good as What We Do In The Shadows by any stretch. However, it's still a film that is best experienced only knowing some of the delights it has in store.

For one thing, this film commits to its goofy premise. Sure, the zombie beavers are meant to be funny more than scary, but that doesn't mean they don't carry a surprising amount of menace. The shots of their eyes glowing in the night in a few scenes are genuinely unnerving. Hell, even the zombie were-beavers that eventually show up are as menacing as they are silly--though naturally there's a visual gag involving one were-beaver that made me laugh too hard to spoil here,

I also appreciate that, while obviously lots of CGI is used, the film mainly relies on physical props for the beavers. When you think about it, vaguely jerky puppets are the only way to render zombie beavers, anyway, so I'm glad the filmmakers realized that. It's also just always more entertaining to see actors wrestle with prop rubber beavers than to see them try to do the same with CGI.

Certainly, Zombeavers is not perfect. The majority of the characters, whether intentionally or not, are pretty intolerable and far too many of the jokes are the sort of lazily offensive material you'd expect to see on something that thinks it's "edgy" but really, really isn't. However, the difference between this and something like The Watch--the alien invasion flick where it turns out the aliens can only be killed by being shot in the dick because that's where their brains are--is that it manages to rise above some lazy, unexceptional material in its comedic scenes by really nailing it in the horror-comedy ones.

Obviously, this is not a film for everyone and I kind of feel like it maybe needed a couple more passes over the script in order to become truly great, but I had a lot of fun with it. I highly recommend this to horror movie fans, especially those like me who are sick to undeath of zombies already.

Today's review brought to you by the letter Z! Hit the banner above to see what the other Celluloid Zeroes chose for Z!

And with that, dear readers, another HubrisWeen draws to a close. Wasn't sure I was gonna make it, and I feel like I could sleep for a week after rushing to make my deadlines at the end here, but you better believe I'm too foolhardy to not take another swing at it in 2016.

So you better be on the lookout for HubrisWeen: The Final Chapter next year. But stuck around, because I'm not done with my hubris and in mid-November you'll be seeing me try to find something new about a bonafide classic for a Criterion blogathon event.

Oh yes, this joint is about to get classy.

1 comment:

  1. This movie is totally worth it for the beavers. (rimshot) But seriously, it's amazing how they managed to be 1) obvious puppets; 2) adorable; and 3) believable threats, all at the same time. I kept going back and forth between "aww, I want one" and "jesus christ get it away from me."

    And if nothing else, the opening credits are a thing of beauty.