In its first act, Zombeavers suggests it will buck both convention and expectation. Not that it would avoid being an innuendo and undead animal-heavy juvenile horror comedywhy would we want a movie called Zombeavers to ever do such a thingbut that it would be so with good timing, sight gags and proper FX splatter. Its opening scene, a quip-heavy truck ride with two toxic goop delivery men, even manages to present a cameo-ing John Mayer as not constantly emanating douche chills. This distracted driving duo (played by a mustached Mayer and actor Bill Burr) are just a means to a zombeaver wood-and-flesh chewing end however. A deer in the road and a rogue canister later, theres waste in the water and director Jordan Rubin focuses on the all-too-requisite horror-comedy setup: vacationing youth.
Even then, Zombeavers is a sunny, funny tale of female friendship and impending doom from cute-but-evil puppets. Midwestern chums Mary (Rachel Melvin), Zoe (Cortney Palm) and Jenn (Lexi Atkins) are visiting a lakeside house, intent on a girls weekend to help the latter get over the revelation that her boyfriends been cheating. Its a familiar, if forgivable setup, thanks to its likely relatability and the ensembles cool chemistry. Mary, Zoe and Jenns personalities clash in ways that friends do, something plenty of films cant muster. The three are equally endeared and dismissive of each other, making for a comedy that sits nicely alongside the budding threat of delightfully goofy-looking evil beavers. This is best in a silly, deadpan wide shot where director Rubin lets an early victims hat float behind the girls on the lake as they talk.
With the arrival of the girls three dudebro boyfriends, Zombeavers begins to fall short of both its comedic aspirations and any sort of satisfactory over-the-top zombeaver bonanza. Instead, the film is content to rest on the shortcuts of its conflict and its premise. Surprise! The boyfriends are crashing girls weekend is tired, and as the three enter the proceedings, so goes the lively, believably tight knit circle. Why anyone would humor these guys as friends, let alone boyfriends, let alone immediately ditch their hurting pal to run upstairs and fuck them is baffling. Similarly, why two of the girls would end up in a love triangle with one is even more so.
The material calls for heightened performances from the guys (Hutch Dano, Jake Weary and Peter Gilroy), but then somehow doesnt go crazy or splattery enough with the beavers. The punchline that beavers chomp wood by nature, and the cast has just barricaded a log cabin with it lands with a whimper; as does a whack-a-mole gag, as does the eventual zombeaver-human hybrids. Part of this is that Zombeavers loses a strong sense of framing, failing to support both the visual and verbal punchlines. The other part is that the film presents each funny concept as if thats enough, but both the puppet beavers and the humans with undead beaver teeth lose their novelty quickly throughout. The only gag truly followed through to a goopy, gory end is when a human-zombeaver gnaws on another kind of wood.
Note: Spoilers follow
Zombeavers final moments complete its descent. Where the film couldve added slight subversion by making its most sex-positive character the final girl, it sees fit to reprise the opening road gag; a joke that feels cheaper by still refusing to get really red.