There’s Nothing Funnier than Hundreds of Beavers

Movies Reviews Mike Cheslik
There’s Nothing Funnier than Hundreds of Beavers

Film critic Sam Adams recently wrote about how, when you do so much of something—be that watching movies, tasting wine, photographing birds, or cheering for your sports team—you can place an outsize value on novelty. It doesn’t have to be good to break you out of your routine, just different. “Even a minor twist on a worn-out formula feels like a life raft in a sea of sameness,” Adams writes. Through this lens, Hundreds of Beavers is a lost continent of comedy, rediscovered after decades spent adrift. Rather than tweaking an exhausted trend, the feature debut of writer/director Mike Cheslik is an immaculately silly collision of timeless cinematic hilarity, unearthed and blended together into something entirely new. A multimedia extravaganza of frozen idiocy, Hundreds of Beavers is a slapstick tour de force—and its roster of ridiculous mascot-suited wildlife is only the tip of the iceberg.

First things first: Yes, there are hundreds of beavers. Dozens of wolves. Various little rabbits, skunks, raccoons, frogs and fish. (And by “little,” I mean “six-foot stuntmen in cheap costumes.”) We have a grumpy shopkeeper, forever missing his spittoon. His impish daughter, a flirty furrier stuck behind his strict rage. And one impromptu trapper, Jean Kayak (co-writer/star Ryland Brickson Cole Tews), newly thawed and alone in the old-timey tundra. Sorry, Jean, but you’re more likely to get pelted than to get pelts. With its cartoonish violence and simple set-up comes an invigorating elegance that invites you deeper into its inspired absurdity.

And Hundreds of Beavers has no lack of inspiration. The dialogue-free, black-and-white comedy is assembled from parts as disparate as The Legend of Zelda, Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush, JibJabs, Terry Gilliam animation, Guy Maddin and Jackass. Acme is namechecked amid Méliès-like stop tricks and Muppety puppetry, while its aesthetic veers from painting broad violence upon a sparse snowy canvas to running through the shadowy bowels of an elaborate German Expressionist fortress.

Guiding us through is Tews. He’s a wide-eyed mime with a caricatured lumberjack body, expertly gauging his expressions and sacrificing his flesh for the cause. His performance takes a little from the heavy-hitters of the form: The savvy romanticism of Harold Lloyd, the physical contortions of Buster Keaton, the underdog struggles of Charlie Chaplin, and the total bodily commitment of all three. Cinematographer Quinn Hester works wonders at the extreme edges of lighting, while the film’s post-production work makes magic from its miniscule budget. (Cheslik also edited and did its FX.) Goofy props are distorted and abused. The stunt team is allowed to crash and stumble on the ice, their plush beaver masks spun 180 degrees and their paw slippers scattered to the wind. The tactility of a blooper reel—of Steve-O getting obliterated by a hostile world—zips this silent-movie madness into modernity. Nobody is making dumb movies as smart as this, with the possible exception of Quentin Dupieux (whose latest, Smoking Causes Coughing, has a few great puppet gags of its own).

You don’t get great physical comedy accidentally. Just as its intrepid idiot hero forges bravely on despite weathering frequent blows to the head, impaled extremities and woodland beatings, Hundreds of Beavers marches proudly towards the sublime transcendence of juvenilia. In its dedication to its own premise, Hundreds of Beavers reaches the kind of purity of purpose usually only found in middle-school stick-figure comics or ancient Flash animations—in stupid ideas taken seriously. To achieve this, its reckless energy is contained by an adherence to a progressive logic as strict as the rules Chuck Jones laid down for his Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoons. Hundreds of Beavers doesn’t necessarily follow Looney Tunes law (for example, Jean Kayak gets his ass kicked by the critters as often as he winds up hurting himself), but it adheres to their ideology.

Alongside Jean Kayak, we learn how this ridiculous version of exploitative Midwestern history works. Rabbits dig tunnels, wolves hunt dogs, woodpeckers respond to whistles. Kayak tries and fails (and fails, and fails, and fails) at setting traps, at escaping danger, at making kills. He improves, slowly. Each hard-earned success leads to fueled ambitions, which leads to more hilarious failures. Every win becomes bigger, and every response grows the logic out into head-spinning conclusions. The repetition is funny, but its results are essential. As its script patiently pushes us through the process of successful comedies—preparation, execution and elaboration—the movie’s manic photons focus into a tight laser. It just so happens that this laser ends up targeting things like a beaver courtroom hearing a beaver case about first-degree beaver murders.

One of the best comedies in the last few years, Hundreds of Beavers might actually contain more laughs than beavers. By recognizing and reclaiming the methods used during the early days of movies, Mike Cheslik’s outrageous escalation of the classic hunter-hunted dynamic becomes a miraculous DIY celebration of enduring, universal truths about how we make each other laugh. And it’s got the best beaver bar brawl you’ll ever see on screen. I’m laughing just thinking about it.

Director: Mike Cheslik
Writer: Mike Cheslik, Ryland Brickson Cole Tews
Starring: Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, Olivia Graves, Wes Tank
Release Date: January 26, 2024

Jacob Oller is Movies Editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacoboller.

For all the latest movie news, reviews, lists and features, follow @PasteMovies.

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