Sunday, February 25, 2024

Modern Movies: HUNDREDS OF BEAVERS (2022)

I often tell people that I love "weird movies," and Hundreds of Beavers (2022) is definitely one of the weirdest, wackiest, and most purely delightful movies I have seen in a long time. This festival darling from Mike Cheslik (writer and director) and Ryland Brickson Cole Tews (writer and star) puts silent comedy, Looney Tunes cartoons, and modern video games into a blender to create an absurdist masterpiece with gags flying by at a breakneck pace for the entire 108 minute run of the picture. If you have the opportunity to see Hundreds of Beavers in a theater, you should skip this review and hurry out the door, but for those who - like me - have to make elaborate travel plans to see indie festival flicks, here's my review to encourage you to book the hotel and gas up the car (or at least make sure you track this one down when it hits streaming or physical media release).

Ryland Brickson Cole Tews plays the hapless Jean Kayak, whose boozy good times making and selling applejack abruptly end when beavers destroy his business. Forced to survive in the relentlessly cold winter, Jean learns by painful trial and error to hunt the beavers and other local critters (all played by actors in cartoonish costumes). He's encouraged in his efforts by an old Master Trapper (Wes Tank) and the attractive furrier (Olivia Graves), but as it turns out the beavers have much more grandiose plans than general mischief against the local humans.

There's so much going on in addition to this basic narrative that it's hard to know where to start, but try to imagine Tex Avery directing Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) with Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton in the starring role and you might begin to get the idea. The movie owes a lot to silent comedy, with many scenes evoking The Gold Rush (1925) thanks to the setting but also Modern Times (1936) and any of the Keystone Cops pictures. There are sight gags and stunts Keaton would love, especially the more meta examples like the holes that dot the landscape or the elaborate Rube Goldberg traps Jean builds. Watching the movie is often like watching someone play a puzzle game (I found myself especially thinking of the 1996 classic, The Neverhood), and the video game vibe is enhanced by action scenes that recall Frogger, Donkey Kong, and other iconic games as well as the intentionally flat and artificial backgrounds against which these scenes occur.

As funny as Cheslik and the other actors are in the human roles - and they are very funny, indeed - the "animals" in the movie are absolutely uproarious, and presenting the story this way is a brilliant stroke that effectively separates us from any expectation of a moral. I won't spoil the dozens of hilarious bits, but a few of my favorites include the two detective beavers, the melodramatic story of the rabbit family, the poker playing sled dogs, and the horse. There are also several delightful puppets to represent smaller animals, including a frog, some fish, and a very annoying woodpecker. Whenever you think the movie has surely reached peak absurdity, it raises the ante again, much to the whooping delight of the audience with whom I saw it. Because it's so maniacally silly, older children will almost certainly love it, but I should add that there's a brief pole dancing scene, a fair bit of sexual innuendo and imagery, and a lot of scatological humor, in addition to non-stop cartoon violence. It's all in service to the comedy, but it's important to consider your own tolerance or that of your children before taking anyone under 12 to see it. There was at least one kid who was about 10 in our small audience, and I could hear him laughing even louder than the adults throughout the movie.

If you want to learn more about Hundreds of Beavers or find the nearest theater screening, head over to the official website. A Blu-ray release is planned for Summer 2024, and the movie will stream on Fandor starting in the spring. I will definitely be buying a copy of the movie so that I can see it again and force all of my friends to watch it.

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