SXSW 2024: SASQUATCH SUNSET. Sweet, Silly, Somber, and Oh So Singular

A year in the life of a pack of Sasquatch that is truly immersive, and joyously singular in conception and execution

Ever since 1967, when Bob Gimlin and Robert Patterson shared their footage of some furry beast, striding through the forest of California, the legend of Bigfoot has only grown. Perhaps nowhere more than the minds of the Zellner Brothers, David and Nathan (Damsel, Kumiko the Treasure Hunter). Not content with their 2011 short film Sasquatch Birth Journal No. 2, which premiered at Sundance, they’re back with Sasquatch Sunset, a full length feature that offers a bigger, better, and more immersive look at the secret lives of the sasquatch.

Evoking the feeling of a wildlife documentary, the film is split into four chapters, each revolving around a season, together charting a year in the life of a pack of sasquatch. The largest, and clear alpha (Nathan Zellner), a beta ( Jesse Eisenberg), a solitary female (Riley Keough), and an additional young male (Christophe Zajac-Denek). Footage from afar, and close up, charts the everyday habits they share, eating, playing, pooping, and occasionally fornicating, while also showcasing the traits that make each of them distinct characters. As they embark on their trek through the forest wilderness, we become witness to drama that stems from within their pack, as well as external threats and problems, such as mountain lions, mixtapes, hallucinogenic mushrooms, a logging operation, and the small matter of a pregnancy. It’s survival of the fittest as this group make their way through the natural world, and encounter the wonders and dangers within it.

Every so often, a film comes along that has a premise that feels utterly absurd, but manages to not just pull off the outlandish concept, but also stake a claim as one of the best features of the year. Fueled by one of the great American myths, Sasquatch Sunset also evokes the great American history of silent movies. No dialogue is spoken, instead we get grunts, whistles, whoops, and gestures. Pratfalls, exaggerated expressions and movement solidify that connection back to Chaplin and the Three Stooges. It’s a comedy era the Zellner’s already played with in having Robert Pattinson channeling Buster Keaton in Damsel. The comedy largely stems from the buffonish acts of the bigfoot (bigfeet?) and the emanations as they look to show anger, fear, or mark territory. They might be crude, but they offer up plenty of tender moments, and signs of higher thought as they grapple with things they encounter, breaches of etiquette amongst themselves, or find ways to communicate and feed themselves.

The Zellner’s handle this weird and wonderful scenario with aplomb. The initial feeling of a Attenborough-style wildlife documentary is beautifully lit by cinematographer Michael Gioulakis. Shots from afar, overhead, and even closeup as if shot from a hide. As things progress, this is somewhat cast off in favor of more intimate shots, underscoring our own immersion in their tale. The natural surrounds, and the place of these creatures within this ecosystem is underscored by the inclusion of an array of wildlife, many depicted by trained rescues that add an additional naturalistic and comedic layer. Porcupines that wave, skunks that hug, and a very patient turtle, all help plant these prosthetic creations right in the wild. Costume/creature designers Steve Newborn and creature designer Daniel Carrasco do sterling work in building these transformative works that render the actors barely recognizable from their human forms. Still, each of them are able to bring to life unique and memorable characters. During the SXSW Q&A it was shared how the quartet engaged in a bigfoot bootcamp to come up with some unified culture and means of expression within their ranks. Within this each of them carve out their own individual sasquatch using their physicality and mannerisms to wonderful effect.

The film does hint at the presence of human influence. The destructive creep of human advancement seen in campers, trappers, and lumber mill operations. But Sasquatch Sunset keeps largely to its natural roots, and this family, as haphazardly constructed and dysfunctional as it is. Through them, we see the folly of machismo and the potency of motherhood. Beauty in the life that surround us, and a means to find incredible humor in the most base of bodily functions and animalistic behavior. It all blends into something that surprisingly feels broadly appealing. In front of me, a pair of kids sat enraptured, while next to me a middle aged couple laughed along, especially at some of the cruder depictions of bodily excavation. You could say it feels very family friendly, which is odd to say given the amount of bigfoot wang on show and the film opening with two sasquatch going at it doggy style for several minutes. The reason for this comes from the Zellner’s unparalleled ability to dig deep into very silly situations and find a nugget of profundity.

For some, the potty humor may wear thin, but alongside it is an enduring feeling of wonder. Of the natural world and the sense of discovery within it. A sweetness that burnishes off the more crude moments. Like Bigfoot him/herself, Sasquatch Sunset achieves mythological status. A sum of the fantastical imaginations of the Zellner Brothers, and the feat that it took to put this soulful film together. Equal Parts Sweet, Silly and Somber, a year in the life of a pack of Sasquatch that is truly immersive, and joyously singular in conception and execution.

Sasquatch Sunset hits theaters on April 12th

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