Many filmmakers wear their influences on their sleeve. Few take those influences and create something unique. With Hundreds of Beavers, maverick japesters Mike Cheslik and Ryland Brickson Cole Tews have achieved that feat. A lunatic stew of silent slapstick, Looney Tunes Cartoons, Guy Maddin eccentricity, and Crash Bandicoot, Hundreds of Beavers is an ultra-specific experience that is also one of the funniest movies in recent memory.

Any plot synopsis will fall woefully short of what this film is, but it’s a simple story. When Jean Kayak’s (Tews) beloved applejack factory is sabotaged by beavers, he loses everything. Left homeless, hungry, freezing in the wintry Great Lakes region he gradually hones his skills as a trapper to survive. As he becomes adept he catches the eye of a pretty furrier (Olivia Graves). But in order to win her hand, her merchant father (Doug Mancheski) has one demand… hundreds of beavers.

Visually, Hundreds of Beavers is gorgeous. Filmed like a black-and-white silent comedy, complete with intertitles, it’s also dense with charmingly lo-fi effects shots, platform game action sequences, and lots of people in animal suits. If it sounds like a mess, you couldn’t be more wrong. Every moment is lovingly crafted, every joke is precise. Rarely since the early days of cinema worshipped by Cheslik and Tews has such love, care, and attention gone into such preposterous buffoonery.

At its centre is Tews himself. A gifted physical comedian, he’s unlike the slight slapstick stars of the silent age. He has none of the pathos of Chaplin, or the deadpan blankness of Keaton. Instead, he lands somewhere closer to Bruce Campbell in the Evil Dead movies. A believable action star – resembling Game of ThronesKristofer Hivju, he actually looks like he could handle himself in this frigid setting – but almost psychotically devoted to being the butt of the joke, Tews presence keeps things tactile and engaging, when it could have floated away with its myriad digital effects. Given how insane the film is, Tews manages to give Jean a true character arc, with his progress as a trapper and his efforts to get the girl just enough to give things a link to a tangible reality.

Things do occasionally get a little exhausting, inevitable given how dense with jokes and relentless in pace it all is. Its structure is based in repetition and escalation, and at 108 minutes, even concerted near-genius like this begins to feel wearisome. You feel that at 80-85 minutes, Hundreds of Beavers would have been an unalloyed masterpiece. Instead, some running gags have gone a full marathon distance come the end and certain sequences feel just a tiny bit drawn out.

Still, one man’s attempt to commit actual genocide against a species in order to get his end away should not be such fun. With Temple of Doom-style action pieces, Rube Goldberg traps, nods to the classics of silent cinema, and some rather adorable beaver costumes, Hundreds of Beavers is a brilliantly made and distinctive comedy. There’s nothing else like it. It’s classic status is surely already guaranteed, and if you can track it down in cinemas, watching with an audience should be a special experience.

In selected cinemas from Tue 9 Jul 2024