2024’s funniest comedy runs silent movies through a video game filter

A woodsman is surrounded by dozens of beavers in Hundreds of Beavers
Image: SRH

Hundreds of Beavers brings silent slapstick back with a whole new modern flavor

American comedy has strayed from the light of its ancestors. Gone are the days of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and the Marx Brothers, when jokes and visual surprises flew at a mile a minute and were matched by the cinematic creativity and physical daring of the auteurs behind them.

Instead, the genre is littered with shows and movies alike that gesture at jokes without ever delivering any, relying more on comedic atmosphere than actual punchlines. Mike Cheslik’s outrageous silent comedy Hundreds of Beavers, now out on VOD after a limited theatrical run, is here to resuscitate a crucial cinematic genre, bringing back silent comedy in an uproarious, deliriously silly micro-budget experience. It’s the single funniest movie of 2024, delivering punchline after punchline through its acute understanding of slapstick comedy and cinematic language. It’s the kind of singular cinematic experience destined to be a midnight cult hit.

From the team behind the 2018 cult black-and-white horror comedy Lake Michigan Monster (whose poster proudly proclaims it’s “Banned in four lakes!” to give you an idea of the silliness at hand), Hundreds of Beavers is a breath of cinematic fresh air, showing how creative a team of talented filmmakers can get on a shoestring budget. (The movie was reportedly made for a mere $150,000.)

Best described as “live-action Looney Tunes for adults,” Hundreds of Beavers is a gag-filled comedic master class that follows Jean Kayak (Ryland Brickson Cole Tews), a trapper stranded in the harsh winter of the Great Lakes region and trying to survive. He has to contend not only with the environment, but with wolves, raccoons, other people, and many, many (some might say hundreds of) beavers who view him as a threat to be removed from their home.

Two people in mascot-sized beaver costumes wear a Sherlock and Watson outfit in the snow in Hundreds of Beavers
Image: SRH

The animals are a big highlight of the Hundreds of Beavers experience, as most (with a few minor CG exceptions) are played by humans in large mascot costumes. It’s a stroke of pure comedic genius that makes every single scene they’re in funnier, especially since the bit is played completely straight. As the story introduces beavers with jobs (beavers in construction uniforms, beaver judges, beaver lawyers, a beaver Sherlock-and-Watson team on the case to solve the many beaver murders our protagonist has committed, etc.) the gag only becomes more and more hilarious.

Those beavers are also a crucial part of survival, as Kayak’s path to success comes in trading beaver furs to a local merchant. This relationship gives Hundreds of Beavers a video game-like quality — Tews’ trapper works his way up the ladder of the merchant’s wares, first exchanging a handful of fish for a coin, then that coin for a knife (complete with a video game-style selection screen where his purchase is highlighted), then three pelts for an ax, working his way up to hundreds of pelts for a wedding ring and the merchant’s daughter’s hand in marriage. As he collects pelts to get closer to his goal, a counter appears on screen to track his progress.

A trader stands behind his stall, with prices for objects displayed in a video-game-like manor, in Hundreds of Beavers
Image: SRH
A person-sized beaver caught in a trap underground, with text saying “6x Beaver” next to it
Image: SRH

The video game influences also show up repeatedly in the trapper’s encounters with the beavers. Kayak has to overcome challenges built on each other as a series of gags, like when his makeshift fire keeps getting blown out by gusts of wind that seemingly change direction each time he settles in, or a sequence where he repeatedly tries and fails to capture a rabbit with a rope. Both sequences culminate in Kayak using what he learned from his many failures to generate an outside-the-box solution. He also repeatedly falls into rabbit holes, showing up in random places on the other end, in an effect much like Mario traversing his warp pipes.

In another gag, Kayak tries to steal eggs from a bird’s nest, but he can’t help himself, and he whistles with joy every time he gets close. Every time he whistles, the bird shows up and pecks him in the face, a hilarious repeated joke that both filmmaker and character are able to use in unexpected ways. Cheslik and the team communicate the story without words, using many of the old tricks in the silent-filmmaking basket to keep viewers engaged and following along with the very silly narrative through clever, punctuated editing and off-kilter images.

In another video game-inspired touch, Kayak draws a map of his surroundings and meets a companion who has his own map, complete with a bait chart reminiscent of games like Pokémon: Rabbits are attracted to carrots, skunks to frogs, dogs to squirrels, and beavers to poop. He is able to add his own knowledge to this diagram as he continues his journey. Within the unbridled and joyful chaos of Hundreds of Beavers (including some dogs literally playing poker), there is a consistent logic to how its world and characters work, helping provide grounding in an otherwise unhinged cartoonish world.

The main character of Hundreds of Beavers thinks through a problem, with four insert images showing different potential paths forward
Image: SRH
A map from Hundreds of Beavers that looks straight out of a Pokemon or old Zelda game
Image: SRH

Surprisingly for a black-and-white silent comedy made on an extremely low budget, one of Hundreds of Beavers’ most impressive aspects is its use of visual effects. Cheslik also created the visual effects for the movie, and he imbues the otherwise simple setting with surreal backgrounds and animated designs that make the action feel more cartoonish, like in the opening musical sequence, where our main character gets absolutely shitfaced on applejack with a group of animated fellow drinkers, before beavers spoil the fun, leaving the lead running on top of a giant rolling barrel of applejack as it plummets toward destruction. The movie is peppered with these animated flourishes, adding to the Looney Tunes feel and contradicting conventional thinking about how VFX should look realistic to be effective. Hundreds of Beavers proves the opposite can be true.

A drunk man stands in front of an animated table with animated food and animated people in Hundreds of Beavers.
Image: SRH
A man in a trapper outfit and two beavers hop over an obstacle while running on a log, like in a Mario game
Image: SRH
A man in a beaver outfit is caught in the cogs of a machine, much like Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times, in Hundreds of Beavers
Image: SRH

Hew too close to realism, and you might leave characters in the uncanny valley. But intentionally try to make something that doesn’t look real, and you’re much more likely to succeed. You can see it on the biggest scale in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where realistic environments and people are recreated with computer-generated visual effects only to fall flat (like in Spider-Man: No Way Home), but more fantastical efforts, like in the Doctor Strange movies, are more effective because they aren’t trying to simulate reality.

Hundreds of Beavers is clearly indebted to the silent cinema of luminaries like Chaplin, Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. Tews (who co-wrote the movie with Cheslik) delivers a terrifically expressive performance as a total doofus scheming against a pack of beavers, and as Chris Plante put it in his write-up for our list of the best movies of 2024, “its small cast would float comfortably in Adult Swim’s pool of lovable oddballs.”

Going without dialogue or other conventional plot-advancing tools forces the team to rely on old-fashioned visual storytelling, counting on the audience to be able to follow their Looney Tunes-esque gags. The physical comedy takes Cheslik’s specific homages to classic silent cinema to the next level. But you don’t need to be a cinema scholar or even a fan of silent comedy to appreciate Hundreds of Beavers. That’s the goofy joy of this project — while its foundation is firmly set in the classics of the genre and the medium, at its heart, it’s a laugh-a-minute thrill ride about a very silly person on a very silly quest. Sometimes, that’s just what the doctor ordered.

Hundreds of Beavers is available for digital purchase or rental on Amazon and Apple.

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