Hundreds of Beavers

Jean Kayak (Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, "Lake Michigan Monster"), the owner of the Jean Kayak Acme Applejack distillery in the frozen north, spends so much time getting high on his own supply he realizes too late that beavers have chewed through the supports of the giant wooden vats holding his product, leaving him with nothing but his own wits to survive and thrive while he is up against “Hundreds of Beavers.”

Laura's Review: A-

If Guy Maddin made a live action Warner Brothers Looney Tunes cartoon with the structure of a video game it would come out something like “Hundreds of Beavers,” an absolutely brilliant and hilarious example of DIY independent filmmaking.  Just when you’ve exhausted yourself laughing at Kayak’s series of comeuppances as he tries to fish, hunt and trap to survive, everything moves up a level plunking us into whole new experiences within the same trap line, building to a surreal climax within a beavers’ logging operation.

Cowriter (with star Ryland Brickson Cole Tews)/editor/VFX/director Mike Cheslik makes his feature directorial debut, swapping roles with his "Lake Michigan Monster" cowriter and star Ryland Brickson Cole Tews who directed the earlier film.  The filmmakers combine live action with animated effects, like the knitted fish puppets who initially evade Kayak’s lures, the also animated flies and maggots collected from animal dung and innards.  The animals themselves are people in kiddie costumes, their eyes amusingly X’ed out once Kayak actually begins to bag some, their innards, revealed when the merchant’s (Doug Mancheski) daughter (Olivia Graves) skins them, stuffed replicas of hearts, lungs and intestines resting upon plastic human skeletons.

The film’s video game aspect comes into play in the levels Kayak ascends and the trades he makes to gather necessary tools, some with an Indian (Luis Rico) he occasionally runs into, the others with the merchant when he acquires rabbits and beavers.  When he’s saved by the mountain man (Wes Tank), a master trapper, he learns how to set a variety of traps and eventually becomes cunning enough to set up elaborate Rube Goldberg contraptions.         

The almost entirely silent (except for sound effects), black and white comedy features one visual gag after another, Kayak climbing a tree with the motions of a wooden wind spinner, the mountain man’s sled dogs playing poker after dark.  The cast is pitch perfect too, Brickson Cole Tews a master of facial and physical comedy, Mancheski’s exaggerated chaw spitting a running gag.  Graves, who becomes the object of Kayak’s desire (the price for her hand those hundreds of beavers), has great fun enticing him with a bared ankle or a pole dancing routine just out of sight of dad’s eyes.  Composer Chris Ryan’s score is a sophisticated throwback.

Although a pastiche of varied influences, “Hundreds of Beavers” is unlike anything you’ve seen before.  It runs ever so slightly long, but the inventiveness never flags.

Robin's Review: A-

"Hundreds of Beavers" begins a Great Lakes road show in Minneapolis on 1/26/24 before beginning a regular theatrical run in NY on 2/27/24 - click here for play dates.