Life in the wilderness––breathing in the mountain air, basking in the sun, and foraging for the perfect meal––can also be punishing and unforgiving. Particularly if you are a Sasquatch family. This simple premise is the foundation of David and Nathan Zellner’s most experimental gamble yet, Sasquatch Sunset, which captures a year in the Sasquatch way of life. Set in the vast expanse of Northern California––not far from where the infamous Patterson–Gimlin film was shot––we witness the circle of life for these creatures in all their birth, playfulness, territorial drive, fornication, and death. The result is almost exactly what one may expect from the logline––with perhaps a bit more bodily fluids and Sasquatch phalluses––and while it’s impressive that the Zellners stay steadfast in their conceit, one wishes the overall effect added up to something with a bit more impact.
As portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg, Riley Keough, Nathan Zellner, and Christophe Zajac-Denek––all bringing new meaning to the craft of physical transformation––the directors are keen to ensure one fully believes this world from the get-go. The make-up and costume work is painstakingly life-like, down to each hair and wrinkle, the only discernible quality perhaps being their eyes. Shot by Mike Gioulakis (Old, It Follows, Us) with the steady observational patience of a National Geographic wildlife episode, there’s a strong sense of the mountainous locations and a clear appreciation for the other forms of nature that surround our characters. Snakes, mountain lions, skunks, possums, moose, and turtles all share this environment, and seeing how the Sasquatches interact––or don’t––with these creatures in their natural habitat is a through line, sometimes to their grave detriment. Aside from some tree-pounding, grunting, and hand motions to signal communication, much of their interactions are observational in nature; the Zellners provide ample duration to honor these rituals while adding a fair amount of sexual and scatological humor to perk up the viewer’s attention.
Aside from the way these shots of copulation, puking, and farting are conceived and edited––clearly going for a laugh––the duo stick to their guns in imagining what everyday Sasquatch life may actually look like. While such an endeavor may not be everyone’s speed, it makes for a compelling antidote to the Bigfoot lore in popular culture––whether it’s creature feature horror movies or crackpot reality shows attempting to prove their veracity. Notwithstanding some third-act commentary regarding society’s impact on their environment, humans don’t appear at all. The rigorous perspective solely on these mythical creatures is a daring decision––a more compelling experiment than the overdramatized recent entries into the Planet of the Apes franchise––but the end result is more commendable than dramatically captivating.
With a sprightly score from The Octopus Project (though one that goes a bit too heavy-handed on elongated trumpet noises when danger is near), the Zellners hone in on surprisingly tender harmonies, both within the family and their link with nature at large. Capturing the cyclical, unforgiving forces of the earth across four seasons, Sasquatch Sunset is a filmmaking oddity that doesn’t fully pay off. Rest assured, though: unless the Zellners make a sequel, there will never be another film like it. That originality is worth celebrating.
Sasquatch Sunset premiered at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival and will be released by Bleecker Street on April 12.