Sunday, February 25, 2024

Hundreds of Beavers

The fate of the Coyote vs. Acme looks increasingly uncertain but you can probably get a similar viewing experience from this eccentric work of cinematic slapstick from Wisconsin. However, Jean Kayak, the much-abused trapper, has more luck against his tormentors than Wile E. Coyote ever did with the Roadrunner. There is plenty of goofy, meat-headed humor, but the misadventures take a surreal turn in director-editor-co-screenwriter Mike Cheslik’s Hundreds of Beavers, which screens this Wednesday and Friday in New York, as part of its special national roadshow.

Cheslik and his co-writer, producer, and star Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, are the same creative team responsible for the weird and wacky
Lake Michigan Monster, so if you saw that film, be forewarned, or totally psyched. This time around, they take their eccentric vision even further, yet somehow, it works better.

Kayak was once a hard cider brewer, but his business was ruined by hungry beavers. Frankly, he was too hammered to notice at the time. Nevertheless, he now must live off the land to survive, so that means trapping. At first, the rabbits and beavers (all of whom are played by “grown-up adults” wearing furry animal costumes) run circles around poor Kayak, until the “Master Fur Trapper” takes him under his wing. Eventually, Kayak will ask to marry the Furrier daughter of the trading post Merchant, but he demands delivery of “hundreds of beavers” before he will consent. Naturally, that means war.

It takes a while to get acclimated to the off-kilter style of
Beavers. It should also be noted that the gags get funnier as the film progresses. It is not for everyone’s tastes, but viewers should at least give it a solid twenty minutes before passing judgment, because Cheslik and Tews have a lot of clever stuff coming down the pike. In fact, it is often ridiculous in smart and inventive ways.

is practically a silent film, featuring virtually no audible dialogue. In many ways, it shares a kinship with Guy Maddin’s films (especially his early work), but the tone is unapologetically cartoony. As a result, conventional critical criteria really do not apply to the cast. Still, Tews deserve massive credit for his rubber-faced and rubber-boned performance as Kayak. If he managed to finish filming without an addiction to back pills, it would have been a minor miracle.

Honestly, it is impressive how many wild, outlandish sequences Cheslik and Tews produced on a limited DIY budget. They had a vision that they fully realized, so cheers to them. They also earn a lot of big laughs. For anyone halfway receptive, the total nuttiness of it all will win you over. Recommended for fans of cult cinema at its most indie,
Hundreds of Beavers screens this Wednesday (2/28) at the IFC Center and Friday (3/1) at the New Plaza Cinema in New York (check their website for further cities).