Fantasia Film Festival 2023 Review: ‘Hundreds of Beavers’

There were, in fact, hundreds of beavers.

by Nick Kush
Hundreds of Beavers

Hundreds of Beavers. Amazing title. No notes. The content of the film itself? Shockingly little notes there too! Hundreds of Beavers is the epitome of a film festival discovery: a wildly creative, handmade project that has absolutely no business working at all, and yet somehow miraculously does. The phrase, “It needs to be seen to be believed,” is probably overused; but here, it’s perfectly apt.

Jean Kayak’s (Ryland Brickson Cole Tews) life is upended when a colony of beavers pillages his applejack distillery, leaving him without his precious booze. Now in the snowy woods, Kayak is on the search for some food, where he runs into plenty of wildlife. Importantly, all animals are people in plush furry costumes. Very key to understanding the vibes here.

After many wacky, failed attempts to kill and eat the animals, Kayak comes across a local trader (Doug Mancheski) and his daughter (Olivia Graves), the latter taking an immediate liking to Kayak. The trader hates Kayak, but will allow him to marry his daughter on one condition: you guessed it, he wants hundreds of beaver skins.

Nearly devoid of dialogue, Hundreds of Beavers takes obvious inspiration from silent-era slapstick. Also Looney Tunes after an edible or two. And, if you can believe it, graphic references to Nintendo games. (Cinema!!!) The combination is something that toes the line between unbelievably endearing and adorable, yet antic and violent. On the surface, Hundreds of Beavers seems like something better suited for a short film, not a feature that’s well over 100 minutes. While its biggest demerit is that it could have used a little tightening, the schtick of a bearded man fighting people in animal costumes and fishing for sock puppets is never not funny. Just when you think Hundreds of Beavers is losing steam, it reinvents itself into a whole new set of gags.

Every frame is lovingly crafted, blending stark black-and-white cinematography with crude animation and matte paintings. The mix is highly dependent on the gag, and director Mike Cheslik integrates them perfectly. Ryland Brickson Cole Tews is also the perfect man for the job as a trapper who kills beavers with a wiffle ball bat. It’s a wonderful physical performance, one that’s clearly informed by silent era titans with an additional layer of absurdism. He has a “wind him up and let him go” sense about him. He’s up for anything, like running full speed at the dressed-up animals and form-tackling them like a roided-up linebacker or flipping headfirst over various structures and popping up like nothing happened. Tews has major “drunk dude at the party starts bear-hugging people and throwing them around” energy, and I mean that with 100% affection.

There are moments in Hundreds of Beavers that had me doubled over in laughter. They come when you least expect them, thanks to precise editing that accentuates every joke. It’s all supremely stupid, but lovingly so. Cheslik and Co. have the conviction to quadruple down on each bit, leading to some wonderful running jokes that speak to a defined method to the stuffed madness. A favorite of mine is that the film’s title sequence isn’t technically finished until about the 75-minute mark. The film is a wonderful reminder of what can happen when a group of goofy, talented friends get together and turn on a camera. You can’t help but smile at the nonsense.

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