'Zombeavers' is a miserable attempt at wink-wink genre parody
Zombeavers Freestyle Releasing
Director: Jordan Rubin
Screenplay: Al Kaplan, Jordan Rubin and Jon Kaplan
Starring: Lexi Atkins, Rachel Melvin, Cortney Palm, Hutch Dano, Jake Weary, Peter Gilroy, Rex Linn and Brent Briscoe
Rated R / 1 hour, 17 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)
Zombeavers is the perfect movie for the Sharknado generation. (For that matter, the fact that it's playing in theatres, and not on late-night cable television waiting to be mocked on Twitter, suggests only that its creators are bad businessmen.) It is a bad movie by design, but not in any way that suggests the filmmakers are capable of anything but. It is a bad movie designed to make fun of bad movies, but not by actually having anything to say about them - just by imitating one and pretending that, in and of itself, is the joke. The filmmakers prove they don't actually know how comedy works; they just know how to point and laugh at things.
That's basically all Zombeavers amounts to. It would like to believe it's "parodying" silly horror movies, but it shows such a lack of understanding of how the genre works - beyond its most basic surface elements - that nothing ever actually lands. It's hiding underneath so many layers of irony that there's nothing else left. Go searching for an actual identity in this thing and you'll wind up like Sam Lowry digging through a Harry Tuttle-shaped newspaper bundle at the end of Brazil.
This goes beyond horror-comedy, or satire, or spoof. This is none of those things; this is "Look how dumb this movie is! Beavers that are also zombies! Get it? Isn't that dumb? Ha!" That's basically director Jordan Rubin's mission statement. Which he could have gotten away with if he'd used that premise as a springboard instead of as an excuse. You can take these kinds of B-movie elements and exploit all their silliness and inanity for comedic value - intended and unintended - and make it work. But Rubin and his co-writers don't even seem to understand what they're laughing at or why. It's more like they got stoned and came up with the idea of zombie beavers and simply stopped there, and the entire resulting film is a testament to their self-amusement. It is borne out of barely (if at all) concealed contempt for the material, and a gross misunderstanding of what's actually funny about B-movies in the first place. At least a true B-movie comes by its badness and its schlocky appeal honestly. Something that shows up as the butt of the joke on MST3K at least earned that right; how sad it must be for the makers of Zombeavers that their movie will never even reach that level of admirability, not to mention relevance. Rubin's filmmaking makes that of Lloyd Kaufman and early John Waters look downright sophisticated by comparison.
In any event, his attempt here is the equivalent of your non-athletic friend launching a basketball at the hoop, missing badly, then bragging about how the fact that he missed on purpose proves his superiority to the game of basketball. Rubin's choices consistently reek of desperation, which is one of the many reasons for the earlier Sharknado comparison. Or perhaps Sharknado 2 would be a more appropriate example. I remember checking in on that for a few minutes the night it premiered and being struck by just how desperate it was to be so "bad" that everyone would ironically love it. But neither that movie nor this one actually understands irony. "Irony" and "laughing at dumb stuff" are not the same thing.
To be clear, plenty of movies have done what Zombeavers is presumably trying to do. Mimicking or outright making fun of schlocky genre conventions is a long tradition. Just looking at recent years, a film like Bad Milo! is a good and very funny example. Or Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror segment from Grindhouse (not to mention all the fake trailers from the same movie, including the one directed by Edgar Wright, whose filmography is littered with parodies of ostensibly lower-tier material).
Zombeavers, both in its story specifics and even some of its references, would be more along the lines of Alexandre Aja's Piranha 3D. (In fact, it even steals Piranha's best joke, when douchebag Jerry O'Connell gets his penis bitten off and eaten late in the game.) While I wasn't in love with Aja's film, it at least got what it was doing and why, and tried to subvert its expectations and limitations. This movie can make no such claim.
I appreciate Zombeavers' practical effects and makeup work, which are truly the only bits of inspired lunacy in this whole undertaking. They are the only elements that capture some semblance of an identity amidst all the halfhearted hackery. But instead of matching the idiosyncratic weirdness of those fleeting good moments, the film plays down to its material's lowest possible level, sheerly for the sake of doing so. Horny college kids + ridiculous water-based menace = campy goodness, right? Well, when you're trying so hard to be campy, camp value is the last thing that actually comes across. You just end up looking pathetic. For that matter, everything you were trying to poke fun at in the first place winds up gaining a new air of class and sophistication by comparison.