by Annette Basile

Year:  2022

Director:  Mike Cheslik

Rated:  PG

Release:  12 July 2024

Distributor: Lightbulb

Running time: 108 minutes

Worth: $16.00
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth

Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, Olivia Graves, Wes Tank

A triumph of big imagination over tiny budget.

Imagine a Charlie Chaplin slapstick movie – black and white and (almost) wordless. Overlay a video-game inspired narrative. Pepper with physics-defying Looney Tunes sight gags. Then add beavers, rabbits and dogs played by people in animal suits. This is the wonderful, weird world of Hundreds of Beavers, replete with cartoon-style violence and lashings of Pythonesque absurdist humour. With overlaid graphics and animation, its influences are obvious, yet it’s used those influences to create something genuinely original.

With a 19th century setting that lends itself perfectly to the silent-era aesthetics, the centre of the tale is the hapless Jean Kayak (Ryland Brickson Cole Tews), who makes, sells – and heartily consumes – applejack. After a fire, he finds himself alone, freezing and starving in the snowy Midwestern wilderness, his farm destroyed. Scrounging for food, he’s a live-action Elmer Fudd, but instead of contending with a single rascally rabbit – that always wins – Kayak comically battles all of nature. He goes on to learn the fur trapper trade and finally gets a few wins, and these wins progress him to different levels, just like a video game – the prize being the hand of a fur trader’s daughter (a splendid and seductive Olivia Graves).

With ‘beavers’ dressed as Holmes and Watson, poker playing ‘dogs’ and a Chaplin-like adventure that borrows from the master’s most famous frames, everything becomes increasingly surreal (just wait and see what the beavers are up to).

As Kayak, Tews is gloriously funny. Beavers is a continuation of his collaboration with high school buddy, Mike Cheslik, having previously teamed up for the 2016 short L.I.P.S., and the 2018 spoof Lake Michigan Monster. Four years in the making, Cheslik handled practically all the effects himself. It may be silly, but it’s meticulously crafted silliness – and on a $US150,000 shoestring.

Hundreds of Beavers is as easy to criticise as it is to praise. Much of the film is one joke stretched to its maximum, and it gets repetitive. Cheslik has described the second act as structured around a video game concept: “Usually in a movie, the second act would be a truncated… But in our movie, there is no elliptical edit. You watch [Kayak] play the whole video game.” Clever idea, but the result is a film that sags in the middle, despite some excellent slapstick and effects.

More concerned with visual jokes than narrative, Hundreds of Beavers is likely to polarise viewers – some will find it far too silly as well as weirdly violent (like the cartoons that inspired it sometimes were); others will appreciate it as sheer, if meaningless, entertainment.

Flaws aside, this is stunningly well made. A triumph of big imagination over tiny budget.


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