Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/20/14 00:31:23

"Exactly what you want a zombie beaver movie to be."
5 stars (Awesome)

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Zombeavers" gives the audience what they want from a movie with that title, pretty much the way they want it, and that way involves puppets. Puppets and blood.

Director Jordan Rubin and co-writers Al & Jon Kaplan are smart about getting the audience there, spending about two or three minutes on an opening scene that explains why there might be zombie beavers in the area before introducing Jenn (Lexi Atkins), Mary (Rachel Melvin), and Zoe (Cortney Palm), three sorority sisters planning on a boyfriend-free weekend at Mary's cousin's house on a lake where there's no cell phone service. Of course, boyfriends Sam (Hutch Dano), Buck (Peter Gilroy), and Tommy (Jake Weary) do show up, despite the fact that the whole thing was specifically about not seeing Sam, but they're not nearly as much trouble as the beaver dam covered in green gunk.

From the start, this thing is going to be a sort of light goof on monster movies, but it's not nearly as easy as just putting some girls in bikinis on the screen with some puppets of limited mobility and letting the yuks happen. As much as Rubin & the Kaplans absolutely know they're making a silly movie, they don't seem to feel the need to spend much time congratulating themselves on how clever they are or winking at the audience. They trust the situation to be funny, give their cast actual characters to play that won't slow things down, and while the beaver puppets are just handmade enough to let the audience laugh a bit at the lower budget, the film is built around their capabilities enough that it never takes the viewer out. This is a funny horror movie built around a goofy premise, yes, but it is decidedly not a spoof, but funny characters playing it straight.

The young cast doing that is one of the movie's most valuable assets. Lexi Atikins, Cortney Palm, and Rachel Melvin aren't given complicated characters to play at the start - they're easy to peg the sad one, the bratty one, and the sensible one right off - but they play off each other nicely, and when the boys are added to the mix, they're similarly quickly sketched but easy to grab onto; there aren't any boring non-entities there to get the body count up. Even Hutch Dano's Sam isn't the completely unlikable guy we're cheering to become zombie food; he's a funny jackass.

But lots of horror movies have an attractive young cast; you're here for the monsters of the title. They aren't much to look at, but they are deployed exceptionally well; the filmmakers reminds us that beavers are mostly nocturnal creatures, giving them an excuse to fill dark screens with glowing eyes in a way that's funny to an audience but also gets across that it's probably pretty terrifying to the characters. The script is full of funny ways that beavers could be great horror-movie monsters if they put their mind to it, and both the silliness and the legitimate thrills are amped up side-by-side without one cancelling the other out. It's funny and exciting.

It's also quick - including a pretty good outtake reel and credits, "Zombeavers" checks in at right around eighty minutes, which is pretty much the ideal length for this sort of movie. None of them are wasted, and I seriously doubt that anybody who buys a ticket for a movie with this name is going to come out of it unsatisfied with what they get.

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