Hundreds Of Beavers Review: A 19th-Century Indie Oddball Hilariously Pits Man Against Beaver [Fantastic Fest]

Titles like Mike Cheslik's "Hundreds of Beavers" are why film festival veterans urge anyone listening to watch as many obscure titles as possible. Outside festival walls, a microbudget black-and-white, almost-no-dialogue 19th-century tale about an American fur trapper versus [checks notes] hundreds of beavers is the hardest of sells. But at a festival like Austin's Fantastic Fest, while sharing theaters with other adventurous moviegoing weirdos who want to see what gems programmers sneak into daily schedules? "Hundreds of Beavers" almost feels commonplace, blending historically inaccurate pioneer struggles with multiple comedy styles that never try to sell their actors in head-to-toe furry costumes as anything more than humans in woodland critter clothing.

Ryland Brickson Cole Tews plays a lush Applejack salesman named Jean Kayak, who watches his orchard ash in flames and distillery tanks crumble thanks to nature's deadliest foe: beavers. Jean is left shivering, blanketed by a layer of harsh winter's snow, and he's forced to rebuild. The former Applejack salesman must become a fur trapper, trading dead animals for supplies from a grumpy merchant (​​Doug Mancheski as "The Merchant") while not-so-secretly pining over his daughter, The Furrier (Olivia Graves). It's an honest new start for Jean, but in the background, there's always danger: the threat of beavers building an empire that one day will crush humanity.

For context, Cheslik and Tews are part of the team who brought the aquatic horror comedy "Lake Michigan Monster" to life with their lunch money and do-it-yourself gumption. "Hundreds of Beavers" bites from the same apple, often utilizing green screens in place of on-location Wisconsin forests or turning goofily unrealistic props into charming in-jokes. Much of "Hundreds of Beavers" begins with cartoon apple trees, crudely drawn Applejack kegs, and chest-hairy animated fur trappers circling Tews as he plays a jovial drunk — this is the vibe. Then Tews' nitwit hunter turns his attention to bonking supporting actors wearing costume store animal getups for points to trade for the next weapon, the next trapping device, none of which features dialogue outside of muffled jibber-jabber or old-timey text cards.

Does Jean Kayak attempting to kill Halloween costume beavers his size or taller by sledding into their legs before throwing punches like some playground brawl where no one wins sounds astoundingly dumb? If you said yes, you're right. That's, of course, where you'll have to decide if "Hundreds of Beavers" is "dumb funny" or "dumb unwatchable."

The film's presentation may exhibit amateur film school levels of frugality, but looks aren't everything. "Hundreds of Beavers" exists at the crossroads of Looney Tunes, Benny Hill, "Cannibal: The Musical," "Blazing Saddles," and Adult Swim mindsets. Chris Ryan's score evokes the booming brass swells of frontier cinema, including original songs about Jean's adventures like narrative explainers were once sung about Mel Brooks' Rock Ridge. Cheslik's command of budget reminds of Matt Stone and Trey Parker maximizing slim expenditures on their cannibalistic Old West musical — and their ability to make it all one big farcical gag also resonates with the "South Park" boys. "Hundreds of Beavers" is a testament to working within your means and letting restrictions define your success because everything starts with a proper story and, in comedy, a pure sense of humor. Check and double-check.

Hundreds of Beavers exists at the crossroads of Looney Tunes, Benny Hill, Cannibal: The Musical, Blazing Saddles, and Adult Swim mindsets

"Hundreds of Beavers" is bravely honest about its capabilities and somehow doesn't overstay its 110-minute duration. Physical humor dominates because so many scenes rely on Tews injuring himself while rigging beaver traps, projecting wild emotions through an eye-led performance that'd make Will Forte proud, or playing "The Oregon Trail" in real life as staged by your high school theater club. You'd think such a gimmick gets old, but that's before Beaver Sherlock Holmes and Beaver Watson start investigating colony crime scenes. Before the 75-minute mark, when the title card hits because, oh right, that didn't happen. Before Jean must infiltrate the beaver stronghold erected in the background all movie like some teeth-carved Death Star. 

There's a survival wholesomeness that plays Abbott & Costello era humor as Jean wrestles with "wolves" who look like they're on their way to a children's party or fishes for crochet swimmers while silently communicating with snowmen companions. Then sanity exits stage left like an early-aughts CollegeHumor video, and beavers start dropping "Star Wars" speeder bike impressions on wooden sleds.

Those willing to take a walk on the wilder side of independent filmmaking should treat themselves to "Hundreds of Beavers." Mike Cheslik innovates through shoestring necessity and creates something that can only exist as a rebellious answer to studio checklists. Never in my wildest dreams would I presume the term "passion project" would equate to backwoods pole dancing, "Frogger"-style log flume chase sequences, plush teddy bear gore (but with beavers), and more video game connections to "Mario Party" minigames or level-selector maps — but that's the beauty of cinema, ain't it? 

"Hundreds of Beavers" gets drunk on writing its own apple-puckered destiny and leaves a wake of hilariously maimed beavers (I haven't even covered half of the slapstick delights that Ryland Brickson Cole Tews carries like a one-person bucktoothed army). It's a hilarious low-low-budget, rough-around-the-edges oddity that makes me very happy, and I hope someday it'll make you feel the same crisp beaver-beatin' joy.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10