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'Sasquatch Sunset' Is a Love Letter to Bigfoot Fans

By Diana Helmuth | Film | March 31, 2024 |

By Diana Helmuth | Film | March 31, 2024 |


Sasquatch Sunset is a love letter to Bigfoot fans, as absurd as it is poignant. Ari Aster (the man who brought us the sunshiny terrors of Midsommer), has teamed up with Nathan and David Zellner (brothers behind the dark-humored adventures Kumiko The Treasure Hunter and Damsel). The result is one long conversation with your inner Pacific Northwest animus — an especially impressive conversation considering no one in the film speaks.

Meet the Sasquatches: an adult male and female and two younger males, played by Nathan Zellner, Riley Keough, Jesse Eisenberg, and Christophe Zajac-Denek. Their exact relationship to each other is not always clear. The older child may be the son of the two coupled adults, or they may have simply picked him up somewhere a while back. In other words, we don’t know if this is family by choice or by blood, but that blurry line seems to make them stronger.

Nathan Zellner, in addition to directing and co-editing the film, plays the alpha male Sasquatch, and you can tell he’s having the time of his life plodding around in the redwoods, hooting and scratching his balls. The Sasquatch suits were impressively done by Steve Newburn and the actors are completely unrecognizable in them. Due to the movie’s total lack of dialogue, all emotions had to be expressed through grunts and physical actions. For this challenge, movement coach Lorin Eric Salm was brought in, who worked with Eisenberg for his role as Marcel Marceau in Resistance. The team’s work shows. All the actors do an incredible job, but the crown really goes to Keough. The depth of emotion she expresses through only physical gestures and eyework is truly impressive. You feel absolutely everything she feels. There’s very little doubt about what is ever going on in her head.

As the film goes on, Mike Gioulakis’s brilliant cinematography vacillates between narrative and documentary style. It’s a joy to see the king of the foggy evergreen jungle walking through his realm at last. The Sasquatches look completely natural and home in every shot. You, too, have now seen Bigfoot. Prepare to believe.

As the film goes on, we watch the Sasquatches perform their daily tasks. All your dreams about what Sasquatch might be doing to pass the time alone in the forest are here. All of them. From making shelter, grooming, and gathering berries, to having sex, vomiting, and sniffing their own genitals. I understand why a few folks were rumored to have walked out of the film’s premiere at Sundance; if you’re not into vulgar, this is not your movie. There were a few points where I was extremely grateful I had decided to skip popcorn. Graphic gross-out fans: rejoice.

There is a kind of voyeurism that this surreal comedy is designed to evoke out of you, as you sit in the dark and cringe and laugh, watching the Sasquatches in their most icky and private moments. These primates are eerily like us, except hairier, and shameless; I felt like I was watching a documentary on something between a pre-apple Adam and Eve, and our long lost relatives on the evolutionary tree.

The film revels in Jackass level disgust and absurdity, but has moments of profundity, almost made more profound because of their juxtapositions next to all the poop-flinging and booger-picking. This movie grasps the heart of what the Bigfoot myth really is: a desire to connect with that inner part of us that longs to roam wild in the woods. And also, what is happening to that longing in the modern world. Despite the fact that this is a firm comedy, there is a subtle philosophical and political message. What befalls the Sasquatches is mostly unpleasant. They are struggling. They face death, loneliness, environmental destruction; obsolescence. As we watch them, it’s hard not to wonder if this is what’s happening to our own desires to be a feral ape roaming the woods. Am I ignoring my inner animal? Is it too late to turn back? Do I want to? The Sasquatches periodically stop what they are doing, gather up large sticks and beat them against a tree, creating something of a beacon call. They play their rhythm and then pause, waiting to hear a response. I realized I was holding my breath, despite myself, during that pause. Moments like these push the film out of the merely slapstick and into a dialogue with our own inner animus - the one that wants to be Bigfoot’s friend.

The film does start to lag a bit near the end, as I began to wonder how they were going to wrap up a story that doesn’t really have a plot. But the Zellners manage a decent conclusion, even if it arrives a bit overdue. I grew up in the woods of Northern California, and I honestly do not think a more commendable job could have been done to bring the myth of Sasquatch - and all he represents - to life. Bring your favorite Bigfoot fan and watch them smile. But consider skipping the snacks.

‘Sasquatch Sunset’ screened at the 2024 SXSW Film and TV Festival. It is premiering April 12, 2024 with a limited theater release.