Zombeavers Dir. Jordan Rubin

[Armory Films; 2014]

Styles: horror, comedy
Others: Cabin in the Woods, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, Scary Movie

Zombeavers was produced by some of the same team that brought us 2012’s quintessential comedic horror film, Cabin in the Woods, but unlike that genuinely enjoyable and well-wrought send-up of scary movie tropes, this film presents the viewer with something of a quandary, begging a very basic question about art and criticism. Namely, is it the place of a critic to call into question a given work’s subject matter? Generally I try to steer clear of impugning a film’s decision to focus on whatever it is it decides to focus on and merely attempt to deal with the matter at hand, however little or great my personal IRL interest in that matter happens to be. With very few exceptions, I feel like films are free to decide what they want to be about, and the actual work of criticism lies in sussing out how well they set about being about it. On the other hand, movies like this one make you wonder why people with such obvious talent would spend so much of it making something so remarkably unambitious.

On a more personal note, all this grappling with the role of an art/film critic calls to mind a long ago late night conversation about whether Heart of a Dog or Master and Margarita was the better of Bulgakov’s books. I held that by narrowing his scope, the author really pulled off something of a coup with Dog, whereas my buddy adamantly held that Master was a far better work because its aim was so astronomically higher, regardless of whatever shortcomings the novel might have had. And while I’m still ambivalent about the conflict between those two viewpoints, there’s something centrally important about scope that for whatever reason Zombeavers threw into sharp relief. This has all been a super long diversion that has little to do with a horrocom movie about mutated nuclear undead aquatic rodents, and I apologize, but what I’m trying to get at is the idea that a film’s choice of scope can be devastatingly crucial in regards to imbuing it with a lasting appeal.

The film itself has moments of levity and the actors all acquit themselves well enough, although the humor never really rises above the maturity level of the film’s title. It’s a very basic story about some college girls on a vacation in the woods who encounter some superpowered zombie beavers who were mutated by some toxic waste foisted on them by a by-the-numbers Bill Burr introductory sequence (that’s got to be something that happens more often than is reported, right?). I suppose what irks the most about the film at hand is its reliance on pat, crude, juvenile humor while doing its best to wink and let you know the makers are really above all this foolishness.

Zombeavers provides a decent number of laughs throughout its standard runtime, and like I mentioned before the performances are all adequate. All that being said, I couldn’t help but come away with this nagging sensation that the talent, effort, and money behind Zombeavers could’ve been put to such better use in a different project — and who knows, maybe with the money the filmmakers generate from this undoubtedly campy gorefest they’ll end up producing something remarkable. There’s always hope.

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