Bigfoot, Small Ideas — Sasquatch Sunset

William J Hammon
6 min readMay 9, 2024

I like weird films. They don’t always work, but the willingness for a filmmaker to go off the beaten path and do something truly strange almost always speaks to a level of creative ambition that often overcomes whatever shortcomings the overall project might have. The zest for surrealism and the desire to experiment with cinematic norms are motivations I will always appreciate, even if I don’t wind up liking the finished product.

The latest work from David and Nathan Zellner (the auteurs behind Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, and The Art of Self-Defense), Sasquatch Sunset, certainly falls within that sphere, which is why I named it the “Redemption Reel” for April. It’s far from perfect, mostly because it falls into two distinct traps that are sadly far too common in mainstream cinema. In spite of that, there is more than enough oddball genius on display to make up for those glaring faults. This makes for a unique experience, even if it’s not necessarily revolutionary or superlative.

Produced with no dialogue other than various grunts, wails, and whimpers (David is the credited screenwriter), and filmed like an omniscient nature documentary, the movie follows the lives of four sasquatches in the wooded mountains of the Pacific Northwest. The obvious gimmick here is that there’s no proof that sasquatches actually exist, and far too much oxygen has been wasted trying to “find” them, so treating them like an ultra-observant David Attenborough is its own fascination. How do we imagine they’d behave? How close are they to us humans as a so-called “missing link”? Are they just as susceptible to folly as we are? There’s a ton of potential in the concept.

Beginning in the spring (the flick is divided into four chapters aligning with the seasons), the dynamics of the quartet are mostly clear. Nathan plays the alpha male, leading the group in daily rituals to forage for food, hammer on trees to detect other signs of life, and build a nightly shelter. He also mates with the sole female of the set, played by Riley Keough, who already has one son played by Christophe Zajac-Denek (probably best known as Ike the Spike in the Twin Peaks reboot). Rounding out the foursome is another adult male played by Jesse Eisenberg. His presence is, for a time, one of the more confusing aspects of the entire film, as in some scenes he’s tutoring the child and receiving guidance from the alpha, suggesting he’s an older son, while in others he outright tries to mate with the female, implying he’s competition, which would be quite icky if he were in fact an offspring. Subsequent press has clarified that he’s something of a beta male and presumed successor to the alpha, which helps things not be as gross, but watching in the moment, it was a bit puzzling.

Their various misadventures are beyond intriguing, with a decent blend of comedy and wonder. In one scene the female nurses her son, looking like something out of Jane Goodall’s research, oddly beautiful under the circumstances, and in the next the child and the beta stumble upon the alpha and the female having rigorous sex in a clearing, with the beta trying to cover the boy’s eyes as if they were modern humans. One scene shows the danger of various predators, while another sees the alpha tripping balls over some strange berries. It’s really well done in parts, and when the female becomes pregnant again, the amount of burden she has to shoulder is strangely admirable in the midst of the insanity.

All of this is enhanced by a makeup job that’s sure to be nominated next year. The work is so complete that you can see only the faintest hints of Eisenberg and Keough’s faces, recognizable because we know them so well. Nathan Zellner’s alpha, however, looks closer to David Harbour than anything else, and Zajac-Denek, being a little person, has made a career out of being adaptable to a range of shorter characters of various ages. It’s truly remarkable how thorough this transformation is, never once looking like an affectation, but rather a new form of life entirely.

It’s this artistic touch, in combination with the curious humor and splendid landscape cinematography, that make this movie worth sticking with until the end, because sadly, the story leaves you wanting. While there are compelling moments in each chapter, the picture suffers from the same issue as many others in recent months. It really just feels like a padded out short. You could easily pick out a few assorted scenes from “Summer,” “Fall,” and “Winter,” tack them onto the end of “Spring” and come in under the 40-minute limit without issue, and the entire affair would be engaging.

Unfortunately, you can see the signs where things are artificially stretched out. Coming upon a paved road for the first time (hard to believe that’s possible given the relative ages of the characters), the group howls in one direction, before the camera cuts to their view and shows us that nothing is coming. They then turn around and repeat the process. This is kind of a funny bit, but then it gets ruined when they turn around a third time and do it again, acting as if they don’t have object permanence, even though previous sequences establish that they do. Similarly, in a dangerous situation on a river bank, the peril is drawn out to an almost excruciating degree before the child gets up to help, and the camera cuts back to him walking and running very slowly from about 100 yards away, adding at least three full minutes to a scene that didn’t need it. Coming upon a campsite (one of the better parts of the film is that there are no human characters, only the vicarious hints of contact), the female somehow turns on a stereo and gets emotional listening to a mixtape that she can’t possibly understand, and it goes on for pretty much the entire length of the song.

The other major shortfall is the gross-out humor. I’m all for a bit of yucky yuks if there’s a purpose and if it’s done in moderation. The early sex scene and the post-coital look at the alpha’s flaccid penis is a good baseline. Repeated callbacks to said penis (and the beta’s), extended bouts of vomit, entire scenes that consist of pissing, shitting, and hurling said shit, and the most disturbing childbirth sequence this side of Rosemary’s Baby border on the gratuitous. It’s just there to gag you, rather than serve as a gag, and it gets to be far too much far too quickly.

Still, as I often say, an ambitious misfire is far more desirable than a safe bit of mediocrity, and to be clear, this is on the whole not a misfire. Sasquatch Sunset is a flawed film, but an interesting one. It takes an utterly absurd curiosity and superstition of our society and treats it with far more seriousness than it deserves, and in doing so, it occasionally approaches the profound through a mostly well-balanced mix of humor, survivalist drama, and grotesquery. I can’t say I loved it, but I certainly didn’t hate it. There’s always something to be said for trying something new and odd, even when it becomes too strange to be entirely entertaining. This may come up short for you, but the effort is worth applauding.

Grade B-

Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? Do you believe in cryptozoology? What would you do if you encountered a mountain lion in the woods? Let me know! And remember, you can follow me on Twitter (fuck “X”) and YouTube for even more content, and check out the entire BTRP Media Network at btrpmedia.com!

Originally published at http://actuallypaid.com on May 9, 2024.

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William J Hammon

All content is from the blog, “I Actually Paid to See This,” available at actuallypaid.com