In the past decade, zombie cinema has exploded into the mainstream nearly to the point of over-saturation. With a seemingly endless flood of new films emerging all the time, filmmakers with a passion for telling the stories of the undead are faced with the difficult challenge of bringing something new or unexpected to the genre. And after several years of slow progress and calculated advancements in zombie lore, we have now finally reached that glorious moment in cinematic history where the mighty beaver is given its due as a vicious agent of death. I am of course referring to Zombeavers, the new horror/comedy by director Jordan Rubin which premiered this past week at Toronto After Dark, telling the story of a group of college kids who are forced to defend themselves against a horde of bloodthirsty beavers while on vacation at a secluded cabin.
The film is clearly a product of 80’s B-Movie nostalgia, with everything from the clichéd “two idiots accidentally drop a barrel of radioactive waste off the back of their truck” setup, to the generic characters and their hackneyed motivations, to its heavy reliance on hilarious practical puppet effects in bringing the titular undead wood-chompers to the big screen. As soon as the first beaver puppet rears its nasty head up to the camera with a vicious growl, it becomes crystal clear that this idea would have suffered immensely (and possibly failed altogether) with the use of computer generated creatures. Instead, the clunky old-school techniques actually help to reinforce the film’s self-depreciating sense of humour, and I would argue they remain the most important element in adapting this zany idea into a fun and entertaining time at the movies for horror fans.
Rubin has captured the exact tone that is necessary for a film like this to work, leaning more heavily on the comedy side of things while still playing it relatively straight where the horror is concerned. The end result comes to feel at times like a small-scale version of Alexandre Aja’s Pirahna 3D, but with a much more intimate setting and network of characters. Thankfully Rubin also did a great job with the casting as well, collecting a decent group of twenty-somethings that I didn’t mind watching for 90-minutes (with the exception of Hutch Dano, who successfully makes us hate his annoying character Sam). There are also a few familiar faces put to great use in supporting roles, including a stoic Rex Linn who is fantastic as the mysterious hunter Smyth, and the always funny Bill Burr who shines – if only briefly – as the oblivious truck driver.
It may not be groundbreaking in any sense – even for its own genre – but anyone with a taste for ridiculous horror/comedy is sure to have a blast with this film. At the very least, if you’re the kind of person who’s open to the idea of watching a film called Zombeavers, I think it’s safe to say you’re going to have a good time.
Zombeavers was preceded by the animated short film Day 40 by Sol Friedman, which offers a revisionist take on the classic story of Noah’s Ark, wherein the animals indulge in a variety of unholy activities and vices on the ark before emerging after the flood to find a bloody surprise waiting for them on land.
The Toronto After Dark film festival continues with two films each night until this Friday, October 24. Full schedule and ticket information is available at the official festival webpage.