By Naomi Roper
There is a fine line between genius and madness. Hundreds of Beavers (directed by Mike Cheslik who co-writes with his star Ryland Brickson Cole Tews) is an audacious, surrealist odyssey that will have you contemplating whether the writers are genius auteurs or raving madmen!
Set in the 19th century Tews stars as Jean Kayak, a Canadian whose life is turned upside down due to his passion for Acme Applejack cider. After a cracking musical opening sequence chaos reigns when the Applejack cider plant goes up in flames. Jobless & penniless Tews is set to starve in the brutal depths of the Canadian winter. Until that is he befriends a local beaver trapper and realises that the secret to his salvation and to romance with the local trader’s daughter is to kill hundreds of beavers.
Filmed in black and white and with no dialogue whatsoever featuring beavers played by adults in furry costumes Hundreds of Beavers veers wildly in tone from live-action Tex Avery cartoon to unsettling horror as Kayak employs a number of Rube Goldberg style devices to murder more and more beavers.
The film is structured like a strategy game. You ever play Stardew Valley? The supposedly relaxing game where you’re meant to clean up the property you’ve inherited and build a farm while befriending (and marrying) the local townsfolk. My plants kept dying and I kept not getting back to my house in time for the end of the day so kept dropping unconscious outside so I felt for Kayak’s pitiful efforts to feed himself. He starts simply trying to find something to eat (while being terrorised by wolves and woodpeckers) and then levels up to helping the local fur trapper, then takes over the fur trapping on an industrial scale and then has to run from the beavers who understandably want justice for their murdered kin. It’s fun watching Kayak level up his way through life but at 108 minutes it takes far too long with the opening section in particular being a bit of a chore as Kayak repeatedly fails to feed himself.
The beavers are a delight to look at and the introduction of a Sherlock Holmes and John Watson beaver who pop up in the background investigating the brutal murder of their brethren is a particularly inspired touch.
The commentary on the horrors of the fur trade is not subtle – for as charmingly hapless as Kayak is towards the end he’s just murdering lots of furry critters for no real reason. The final section as he is judged and seeks to escape the wrath of the beavers is nail-bitingly tense and visually striking.
Could have done with some judicious editing but overall a fun, madcap, visually stunning film that is quite unlike anything else out there.
Hundreds of Beavers screened at the Fantasia Film Festival