When Mandy asked me what I was doing tonight perhaps “Checking out Hundreds of Beavers” wasn’t the best of all possible answers. And I suppose trying to clarify it with “Big hairy Canadian beavers” didn’t help. But despite the title and opening quote from St. Augustine, “Lord grant me chastity, but not yet!”, this isn’t that kind of a movie.
The new film from director Mike Cheslik and co-writer Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, the pair who gave us the Tews-directed Lake Michigan Monster, never really gets raunchier than an old episode of The Benny Hill Show as it relates the tale of Jean Kayak (Ryland Brickson Cole Tews) who, as we see in the opening animation, has lost his apple orchard and apple jack business in a drunken catastrophe.
He’s forced to turn to fur trapping in order to eat and afford supplies from The Merchant (Doug Mancheski, Coming Up for Air, Appleton) and more importantly, to impress The Merchant’s daughter The Furrier (Olivia Graves, Defying Gravity: The Untold Story of Women’s Gymnastics).
That might sound more like the making of a wilderness survival drama than a comedy, but Hundreds of Beavers is far from a conventional film. It was shot in black and white and is dialogue-free, though there are sound effects and dialogue cards. And the animals he’s out to kill? Not the cute fuzzy critters you might be expecting but actors in full-sized costumes, as well as crocheted fish and animated flies.
Hundreds of Beavers utilizes deliberately low-tech effects which include obvious green screen work and equally obvious CGI work such as the flames that appear on Jean’s back when he falls asleep on his campfire or the woodpecker that attacks every time he whistles. Combined with the film’s absurd plotting and disregard for conventional physics they are the key to its humour. Hundreds of Beavers resembles a live-action Looney Toons cartoon complete with a reference to their title scenes, anthropomorphic animals and traps that would make Wile E. Coyote jealous.
This also means that there is a lot of outrageous physical humour on display here. A misfiring snare trap becomes a catapult sending Jean flying over the frozen tundra. A stripper pole suddenly appears to let Olivia Graves put her gymnastics background to use. And then there’s Jean’s infiltration of the beaver fortress with its log flumes and sawmill that seem to have been designed by MC Escher.
The cast is extremely small, apart from the three leads the only other human characters are The Master Trapper (Wes Tank, Mags and Julie Go on a Road Trip, The Blood Is at the Doorstep) and The Indian Trapper (Luis Rico, Power Book IV: Force, Blame). But they all do a wonderful job at delivering the laughs. Whether over-the-top cartoonishness or more grounded Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin or even Benny Hill-styled pantomime laughs they’re all spot on.
The same can be said for the performers in the various animal suits who don’t even have the luxury of using facial expressions and have to rely fully on body language. There is just a group listing for them, but whoever was in the Sherlock Holmes and Watson beaver suits deserved special recognition, they’re two of the funniest things I’ve seen this year.
I was worried that at an hour and forty-eight minutes, Hundreds of Beavers would start to run out of ideas. But by the time it launches into a climax that involves everything from sled chases to a beaver mecha, I was actually wanting more. If you even remotely suspect you might like this film, you should check it out.
Hundreds of Beavers will have its Canadian premiere on July 28th as part of the 2023 Fantasia Film Festival, with a second showing on July 31st. You can check the film’s Facebook page for upcoming screenings and release news.