Hundreds of Beavers
Photograph: Lightbulb Film Distribution
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Hundreds of Beavers

4 out of 5 stars

The funniest, most inventive comedy of the summer? You better be-leaver it

Ian Freer

Time Out says

Mike Cheslik’s Hundreds Of Beavers is that rare thing in the current film landscape: a genuine cult classic.

Made for just $150,000 over six years, the story of a fur trapper versus the titular century of beavers (actors in grown-up mascot costumes rather than the real thing) mashes up the old (silent comedy) and new (video games) with the nutty energy of a Looney Tunes cartoon. It found its audience in the US by making its mark at a grassroots level through canny screenings – halfway through mascots would invade the auditoria and hand out beers – but even without the gimmicks it’s a lo-fi, original, refreshing treat with a gag count that leaves much more expensive fare in the dust.

Or more specifically, the snow. In the frozen wastes of North America during the 19th century, a French applejack salesman Jean Kayak (played by co-writer Ryland Brickson Cole Tews) sees his livelihood taken away when a colony of bastard beavers burn down his distillery (all this is accompanied by a catchy Davy Crockett-y ballad). 

Turning to booze, Jean finds salvation when he falls in love with the pole-dancing daughter of a fur salesman (Olivia Graves). But there is a catch. The miserable merchant (Doug Mancheski) will only give his consent to the happy couple’s marriage if Jean can bring back the only valuable commodity in these parts – one hundred beaver pelts.

It’s that rare thing in the current film landscape: a genuine cult classic

Onto this admittedly thin premise Cheslik and Tews bring in slapstick violence, Tex Avery-esque inspired visual lunacy, Sherlock Holmes and Watson, a courtroom drama, and a climax to rival You Only Live Twice (yes, there is a beaver space programme). 

It may have the grammar of a Charlie Chaplin one-reeler – black and white, no sync sound, intertitles – but Cheslik’s film has the logic of a Super Mario game (especially in its middle act, as Jean learns the basics of trapping), and the relentless quality of a Marvel blockbuster. As the engaging, rubber-faced Tews becomes the constant victim of the rambunctious rodents, the film also has something of You’ve Been Framed about it, a pure joy in watching other people get hurt.  

But what gives Hundreds Of Beavers its special quality is the mixture of no-budget, seemingly haphazard gonzo energy and the well-tooled jokes that can only come from rigorous planning and effervescent ingenuity. It might be cheapo-cheapo – Cheslik did all 1500 effects on a home computer – but the filmmaking is whip smart, a mash-up of influences and inspirations that becomes very much its own thing. Less ‘nice beaver’, more great beaver.

In UK cinemas now.

Cast and crew

  • Director:Mike Cheslik
  • Screenwriter:Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, Mike Cheslik
  • Cast:
    • Ryland Brickson Cole Tews
    • Olivia Graves
    • Doug Mancheski
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