By Jonathan Monovich.

An example as to why silent comedy is timeless despite the disbelief of many.”

Whereas Lake Michigan Monster (2018) was a whacky take on films like Roger Corman’s Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961) and Curtis Harrington’s Night Tide (1961), Mike Cheslik/Ryland Brickson Cole Tews’ follow-up, Hundreds of Beavers (2022), is a playful spin on the work of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Made for $150,000, a considerable increase from Lake Michigan Monster’s $7,000 budget, Hundreds of Beavers uses its modest means to its advantage. The hokey effects amplify the laughs, and the film’s economical approach adds to its charm. For the cartoonish Hundreds of Beavers, Cheslik and Tews’ roles have flipped with Cheslik directing/writing and Tews co-writing. Like Lake Michigan Monster, Tews also plays the lead. As Beavers is a silent comedy, Tews’ maintains his boisterous antics from his prior film but leaves behind the sailor jargon for his starring role of Jean Kayak. Following a song and dance introducing Kayak’s beloved Acme Apple Jack alcoholic cider, his carefree life as a drunkard is turned upside down when beavers infiltrate his cider mill. Kayak’s profession and his livelihood are left in ruins. To make matters worse, winter has just arrived for Wisconsin’s worst hunter, leaving him both cold and hungry. Kayak’s resulting frustration is left solely to the sounds of grunts, groans, and grumbles paired with enthusiastic facial expressions throughout his brewing battle of man vs. wild.

Though he never has to get as creative as eating his shoes, as did the Tramp in The Gold Rush (1925), Kayak’s struggle to stay alive is defined by similar silly solutions. The snowy setting and several of the gags are indebted to The Gold Rush. Just as Big Jim’s (Mack Swain) hunger led him to envision the Tramp as a chicken in The Gold Rush, Kayak cleverly sees pizza when he gazes at rabbits, birds, and other forest inhabitants. Amusingly, the majority of film’s animals are played by costumed humans. Before initiating a war with the beavers, Kayak engages in Elmer Fudd/Bugs Bunny back-and-forth style shenanigans. His efforts are largely unsuccessful. Amidst Kayak’s inventive traps, attempting to catch his next meal, he at one point adds feet to a pair of tree branches in a nod to The Gold Rush’s “dance of the bread rolls.” Furthering the Chaplin connection, Kayak’s ambitions are fueled by a romantic interest. He is infatuated with a fur trader’s daughter (Olivia Graves), which brings about further complications. Kayak is repeatedly upstaged by the film’s Big Jim, billed the master fur trapper (Wes Tank), and the merchant (Doug Mancheski) wants his daughter, the furrier, to marry the master.

After a myriad of distractions and an intentionally long buildup to the film’s title, Kayak gets down to business in his revenge plot against the beavers and his pursuit of love. An eventual showdown in a logging factory inhabited by beavers is reminiscent of Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936) as Kayak floats past wooden gears and water falls in place of conveyor belts and machinery. There are also references to Buster Keaton’s famous falling house bit from Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) and the iconic boulder chase scene from Seven Chances (1925). Clearly, Cheslik and Tews are knowledgeable of their predecessors and obvious fans of the silent era. Hundreds of Beavers is a genuine work of homage, yet the film also adds its own original touches. To have theatrically exhibited a new silent film today is a great accomplishment in itself, and Hundreds of Beavers serves as an example as to why silent comedy is timeless despite the disbelief of many. Slapstick is universal, and Cheslik/Tews are helping keep the genre afloat.

Cheslik and Tews are two names to remember… There is great cinematic potential from these two, and their appreciation for film history is commendable.”

Apart from the forementioned costumes and the silent tropes, the Beavers also taps into video game humor. When looking to his map for his best course of action, Kayak’s plans are pixilated. Similarly, video game-like sounds/images are used to comic effect when animals are startled. Exclamation points and question marks illuminate above their ears.

Each of Kayak’s interactions with the merchant are also stylized. As he ponders the goods that he can receive for the fur he retrieves, Kayak scrolls through the merchant’s limited catalogue as if he were playing Animal Crossing. Perhaps most humorous of the film’s video game nods is that each time Kayak successfully brings down one of his animal opponents, a number is added to the on-screen kill count.

In contrast to Chaplin and Keaton’s often under ninety-minute runtimes, Hundreds of Beavers clocks in at one-hundred-and-eight minutes. The film is most effective in its first and third acts, but Kayak’s mishaps in the middle become a bit repetitive. Beavers is better suited for a traditional silent comedy length, and it would have been more effective had Cheslik and Tews used the one-hundred-year-old formula. Though well-intentioned, Hundreds of Beavers falls short of the films it tries to emulate. Chaplin and Keaton are a pretty tough act to follow, yet Cheslik and Tews are two names to remember. Both are off to a great start, and their style harkens back to a good old fashioned duo a la Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, and Martin and Lewis. There is great cinematic potential from these two, and their appreciation for film history is commendable.

Following a successful festival run, Hundreds of Beavers is now in theaters and will be available for streaming on April 15th.

Jonathan Monovich is a Chicago-based writer and Image Editor for Film International, where he regularly contributes. His writing has also been featured in Film Matters, Bright Lights Film Journal, and PopMatters.

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