• Sun. Apr 14th, 2024

Movie Curiosities

The online diary of an aspiring movie nerd

Hundreds of Beavers

ByCuriosity Inc.

Feb 24, 2024

Earlier this month, Richard Plaud came to international renown for building and completing the world’s largest matchstick structure. He spent eight years assembling a 23-foot tall model of the Eiffel Tower, using 700,000 matchsticks. However, the award came with some controversy, as the matchsticks weren’t “commercially available”. Though he did buy the matches fair and square, Guinness initially thought it didn’t count because the matchsticks had been modified for the task.

Specifically, Plaud had cut the sulfur tips off of each individual matchstick. Over 700,000 of them. One by one. Manually. Over eight years.

You might see this and think he’s some kind of nutjob. How could anyone devote so much time and effort to something so pathetically inane and randomly useless? But imagine what it would be like to actually be there. Imagine standing in the shadow of that 23-foot tall construction. Think about what it would be like to take it all in, from the sheer massive scale of the overall piece to the craftsmanship and passion that went into cutting and placing each individual pick.

Anybody could get the materials and skills to build a matchstick structure, but nobody else could build this. Nobody else could have the vision or the skills to make this particular project on this particular scale in this exact way. Nobody else in all of time or space could have the passion, the work ethic, the confidence, or the resilience to see this project through against all setbacks and contingencies across eight goddamn years.

This is effectively what it’s like to see a legitimately good shoestring budget indie film. And Hundreds of Beavers could very well be the Plaud Eiffel Tower of shoestring indie cinema.

Hundreds of Beavers comes to us from the guerilla sketch comedy team of director/co-writer Mike Cheslik and co-writer/star Ryland Brickson Cole Tews. It’s a black-and-white slapstick comedy with virtually no dialogue, blending together puppets, outrageously fake animal costumes (complete with clearly visible zippers on the back), and hammy overacting, all within the four corners of a chroma-key green screen. Imagine if a Looney Tunes cartoon had been made in the era of Ub Iwerks and the Fleischer Brothers. Now imagine if that Looney Tunes cartoon was an Elmer Fudd/Bugs Bunny conflict stretched out to feature length, with Elmer as the protagonist. And we’re still only skimming the surface of what beautiful madness we’ve got here.

We lay our scene in the untamed forest of the northern midwest, right around Green Bay. RBCT stars as Jean Kayak, a drunken idiot who runs a combination apple farm and tavern, serving thirsty lumberjacks with hard cider fermented from his home-grown apples. Long story short, an act of sabotage from the local wildlife leads directly to the annihilation of Jean’s entire farm.

Thus Jean has to switch gears and learn how to survive in the harsh frozen wilderness and make a career for himself as a fur trapper. This reinvention of himself is complicated by endless waves of animals smarter than he is, icy snow-topped terrain that doesn’t want him there, and some top-secret project that the local beavers are assembling for unknown sinister purposes. I might add that Jean himself has no skills or experience of any kind, but at least he’s a persistent bastard with a godlike pain threshold.

In the supporting cast, we’ve got Olivia Graves playing the Furrier, a deranged young beauty serving as Jean’s love interest. She appears alongside Doug Mancheski as the Merchant, sullen hardass overprotective father to the Furrier. The two nicely help to provide Jean with additional stakes while giving him someone else to play off of. In particular, the Merchant adds to the “video game” structure of Jean’s progression, letting him sell off furs to “level up” with more advanced gear.

Elsewhere, Wes Tank appears as the Master Trapper, who eventually shows up just long enough to help Jean with a few basic tricks of the trade to get going. The only other human player in here is Luis Rico, briefly yet gamely playing a Native American fur trapper. Damn shame more wasn’t done with him, but simply being there as a sounding board for a select few jokes goes a long way in this picture.

But of course the most crucial supporting players are the two dozen actors running around in those ridiculous animal costumes. These are the guys acting against a chroma key, acting multiple times so their performances can be cloned into an army, performing all these hyperactive physical stunts in cumbersome costumes with those giant fucking heads. These actors are so much of what make the physical comedy work, most especially when we get into the slapstick and stunt comedy.

It was a dicey proposition, making a comedy film about a man who kills animals for fun and profit, but there are so many reasons why it works. An obvious reason is how blatantly fake everything is, which allows for a level of emotional disconnect. Furthermore, we know that Jean himself will quickly recover from anything he suffers, and every animal he hurts or kills will be immediately replaced by a perfectly identical animal likely played by the exact same actor. It’s the same basic principle as watching Wile E. Coyote blow himself up, knowing he’ll come back in the next scene like nothing happened.

Moreover, it’s important to remember that Jean starts out as a drunken idiot, but he’s in this predicament for reasons that are not (entirely) his fault. As such, his character hits the sweet spot, such that we can laugh at his injuries and misfortunes even as we cheer for his victories. There’s a lot of fun in watching Jean try and problem-solve in diabolically clever ways, and it’s always compelling to watch someone become more competent at what they do.

It’s that powerful development arc that keeps a sketch comedy premise engaging and hilarious through a feature-length runtime. At the start of the film, we’re watching Jean suffer horrible bodily injury through cartoon logic. By the climax, we’re watching Jean parry that exact same cartoon logic into Rube Goldberg contraptions that kill animals en masse. At the start, we get the satisfaction of watching Jean get his comeuppance for trying to kill and eat so many unsuspecting animals. At the end, we’ve built up so many reasons to sympathize with Jean and so many reasons to root against the cartoon animals, it’s immensely satisfying and outright uproarious to watch Jean lay the smack down on hordes of small mammals. Going from one extreme to the other, and walking through all points in between, keeps the gags fresh and the audience surprised while telling a legitimately fleshed-out story about this cartoon fur trapper.

I can’t possibly stress enough how wickedly intelligent this movie is. The filmmakers fully embrace the no-holds-barred over-the-top anything-goes excess of retro animation, but the jokes are all carefully paced so we’re not hit with too much too fast. Yes, open with the guy getting his foot skewered by a pinecone — hold off the beaver kaiju until the climax. (I’m only partly joking about the kaiju — you try describing whatever the fuck that was.)

Speaking of the climax, the bizarre nature of the story and presentation can lend itself to some mind-warping horror. The climax goes to some nightmarishly fucked-up places, but always with the security of knowing we’ll get back to the heightened slapstick comedy in short order. A further testament to how far these filmmakers were gutsy and crazy enough to go.

It’s truly astonishing how much mileage the movie gets out of this premise. A lot of that has to do with the notion of running gags and repeated jokes, typically when a trap fails and Jean keeps trying new and improved traps until he gets one that works. Thus with each iteration, the same joke keeps getting bigger and bigger so each new failure gets a greater laugh. In the bargain, it shows Jean developing and it feels so much better when he finds some new crazy way to make it work.

That’s not even getting started on the Jean/Furrier/Merchant subplot. The Merchant himself is a stock character who’s more of a plot device than anything else, but he’s played broadly enough to get some laughs while keeping the plot moving. But the Furrier is the real highlight. Here’s a love interest who could flip on a dime from seductively showing an ankle to a full-on spontaneous pole dance routine. While her overly possessive father is in earshot, no less. The Furrier is a love interest who could satisfy Jean’s every romantic and sexual desire just as easily as get him killed. And the Furrier could have any guy she wanted, but she wants a man who can make her laugh. The romance angle is every bit as demented as anything else in this picture, but it works.

The interplay between characters is all the more impressive when considering how little dialogue there is. Between the hammy overacting, the visual gags, the use of various maps and guide texts, the filmmakers do a fine job of keeping the audience up to speed. It certainly helps that the filmmakers didn’t limit themselves to retro trappings and tropes, making heavy use of video game imagery alongside the title cards to tell the audience what we need to know.

Hundreds of Beavers is the kind of movie we don’t deserve. This is a comedy made with craftsmanship, intelligence, heart, style, and raw unfiltered talent like Hollywood doesn’t put into comedies anymore. The movie is too far ahead of its time and too good for this world. This was made to be a cult classic, a secret handshake, your favorite filmmaker’s favorite movie. The kind of movie you bring up in conversation, followed immediately by “It’ll change your life, I promise.”

See this movie. Whatever it takes. It’ll change your life, I promise.

By Curiosity Inc.

I hold a B.S. in Bioinformatics, the only one from Pacific University's Class of '09. I was the stage-hand-in-chief of my high school drama department and I'm a bass drummer for the Last Regiment of Syncopated Drummers. I dabble in video games and I'm still pretty good at DDR. My primary hobby is going online for upcoming movie news. I am a movie buff, a movie nerd, whatever you want to call it. Comic books are another hobby, but I'm not talking about Superman or Spider-Man or those books that number in the triple-digits. I'm talking about Watchmen, Preacher, Sandman, etc. Self-contained, dramatic, intellectual stories that couldn't be accomplished in any other medium. I'm a proud son of Oregon, born and raised here. I've been just about everywhere in North and Central America and I love it right here.

Leave a Reply