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HUNDREDS OF BEAVERS Review Brings Silent Film Zaniness to Life

A bunch of people in beaver costumes cause chaos
Image courtesy of Hundreds of Beavers

By Josh Taylor

HUNDREDS OF BEAVERS opens with a big musical number. Cartoons fly across the screen as a lumberjack traverses through the woods in black and white. I was initially thrown off by how weird it was, but then I wondered if the film could keep up with how zany and cartoonish it was during the opening number. For me, a lover of old-school animation and filmmaking, it never stops being over the top.

HUNDREDS OF BEAVERS is a film produced by Mike Cheslik and Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, with Cheslik directing and Tews playing the lead role of applejack and brewery owner Jean Kayak. It is a small production but an ambitious take on the style of silent-era comedy and the cartoonish nature of Looney Tunes. It fully commits to that style, allowing for a small production to feel more grand and for anyone watching to pay attention to the details added to the film.

The story follows Jean Kayak as he is invaded by, well, beavers along with rabbits, wolves, and other animals who kill his apple trees and destroy his life. He seeks revenge in a very "Wile E. Coyote catching the Roadrunner" kind of way. He is joined by a merchant (Wes Tank) and his daughter (Olivia Graves), who all turn their expressions a bit over the top. Our hero, Jean Kayak, even falls for the merchant’s daughter in that kind of Buster Keaton way the silent stars showcase as they are smitten with love.

One thing about HUNDREDS OF BEAVERS being a silent film is that it forces other aspects of the movie to make up for what audiences usually see or hear. Because there are few lines of dialogue, the acting, special effects, score, and sound design are all heightened, only adding to the cartoon-like feel of the production. The costumes for the animal characters are all designed to be furry suits worn by actors, the sound design is over the top with its goofiness, and the score changes style depending on what’s happening on screen. It’s all a bit of cheeky fun to watch. The black-and-white visuals allow certain things to be hidden but also allow for escapism. Because the film has such a stylistic and surreal view, I quickly buy into the ground collapsing and Jean Kayak falling through a hole multiple times throughout the film. I buy into a giant carrot trap coaxing men in rabbit suits.

Two people in Beaver costumes carry a log
Image courtesy of Hundreds of Beavers

More than anything, I have to applaud the acting, in particular Ryland Brickson Cole Tews. Thanks to the environment of a snowy mountain and his performance, I was immediately reminded of Charlie Chaplin in one of his more famous films, The Gold Rush. Due to his fantastic expressions, Tews never once felt like a natural person in the real world, but an imaginary figure that fit right into the cartoonish backgrounds, the roided-out snowman, and all the animal figures he was fighting against. 

Olivia Graves also does a tremendous job feeling like the seductive young woman Jean Kayak is interested in. Her performance feels much more modern. It isn’t bad in any way, but it doesn’t give off that golden era of Hollywood romance that maybe I was hoping for. That could be because the story doesn’t have her playing the damsel in distress or even the feisty Sunset Blvd type of actress. She’s much more seductive in a Denise Richards kind of way. There is a pole dancing routine that doesn’t feel necessary to the story and doesn’t fit the film's tone. Graves performs what she has well, but I wish what she had was a bit more in tune with everything else going on.

Ultimately, HUNDREDS OF BEAVERS is 105 minutes of fun, stylistic filmmaking that harkens back to the early days of cinema, when cartoons were always part of the movie-going experience, and it was perfectly normal to watch a character blow up a stick of dynamite while holding it. Is it worth your time? That depends on if you are alright with something so unique, without sound, and telling a reasonably straightforward story similar to the films of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Those who adore that style of comedy will enjoy this small production with a lot of love for an older style of filmmaking. 

HUNDREDS OF BEAVERS is screening across the United States for runs in New York City (IFC Center), Los Angeles (Laemmle Glendale beginning March 15), Atlanta (Plaza Theater), Charlotte (The Independent Picture House beginning March 29), and more. For a complete list of screenings, click here.


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