- Mike Cheslik
- Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, Olivia Graves, Wes Tank, Doug Mancheski, Luis Rico
- 108 min.
- Release Date
A wild mixture of silent-era aesthetics, slapstick comedy, cartoon logic, and the spirit of low-fi independent filmmaking combine into the strange concoction that is Hundreds of Beavers. The ambitious shoestring production, presented in black and white, tells the story of a nineteenth-century applejack distillery worker, Jean Kayak, played by Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, who resolves to become a fur trapper to impress a woman. A forest full of rabbits and raccoons—hilariously played by actors in animal costumes, credited as “mascots,” which is bound to please those in the furry fandom—presents a constant obstacle, culminating with a clash against the titular buck-toothed rodents at their Tower of Babel-style lumber operation. But never mind the narrative arc; the movie consists of one wily setup after another, like extending a Looney Tune to feature length.
Shot over 12 weeks in northern Wisconsin in 2020, Hundreds of Beavers is the brainchild of writer-director Mike Cheslik and co-writer Tews, makers of Lake Michigan Monster (2018). They reportedly conceived the idea under the influence and designed the production so it could play soundlessly in the background at Midwest bars. (Is there anything more stereotypically Wisconsin?) The result plays with a tangential quality that makes any five minutes in the movie hugely entertaining. In contrast, at 108 minutes, the whole may test viewers’ resilience. Even so, the sight of these mascot animals and their anthropomorphized behavior remains a constant source of laughs. But the filmmakers don’t just double down on their gags; they quadruple and quintuple them, making the experience overly repetitive, depending on the gag (the multiple woodpecker and spitoon jokes could have been trimmed).
Still, despite its ultra-low budget, Hundreds of Beavers doesn’t do anything small, so it’s easy to admire the effort and frequently impressive execution. Tews, in particular, delivers a larger-than-life performance akin to Bruce Campbell, marrying Elmer Fudd’s hunter schemes with The Little Tramp’s endearing tenacity. Demonstrating his aptitude for formal techniques, Cheslik employs animation, iris shots, green screens, CGI, puppetry, and a slew of other post-production devices to turn this dialogue-free comedy into a visual cornucopia. While some of the effects look quite crude, intentionally and charmingly so, other visuals look inspired. The standout finds our hero in the woods with a fellow trapper one night. When wolves attack in the dark, their eyes glowing in a black void, he tries to escape up a tree, surrounded by negative space except for the trunk, like something out of Sin City (2003). Elsewhere, the score by Chris Ryan sounds like a throwback, aping silent-era scores with occasional notes borrowed from other sources, such as Psycho (1960).
Every moment feels inspired by the visual grammar of a dozen other influences. Given that, Hundreds of Beavers has a characteristic of many Charlie Chaplin features (see Modern Times, 1936), which can sometimes feel like a procession of individual gags strung together by a common theme. Here, the movie is chock full of superb individual sequences—any of which would conjure a smile or chuckle at the bar. And overall, even though it meanders and might even overstay its welcome, the sheer filmmaking ingenuity on display is impressive and worth seeking out.
After making the rounds on the festival circuit since late 2022, Hundreds of Beavers has recently been touring with one-night-only theatrical events, followed by a planned streaming and physical media debut in mid-2024. The modest rollout follows a recipe for generating a cult classic or midnight madness following. Doubtlessly, this is the best way to enjoy the movie—with a rowdy, preferably inebriated crowd whose contagious laughter may justify the runtime better than a home viewing could.
(Note: Check the official Hundreds of Beavers website for tour dates and showtimes near you. In Minnesota, the movie will play at Showplace ICON on Friday, January 26, and in Duluth at the Zeitgeist Zinema 2 on Saturday, January 27.)