Hulu's “Sasquatch” is a modern true-crime doc of a rare breed: rarely have they felt as nerve-racking, dangerous, and truly scary. It is not all about Bigfoot, one must say right off the bat, because I suspect that most people wouldn’t want to get into a series that’s about Bigfoot hunters unless it had a “Tiger King”-like epic attached (which was something around what I expected). Instead, the shadows of "Sasquatch" are of a lawless land, as sinister and all-American as cutthroat capitalism, racism, and the exploitation of immigrant labor. Joshua Rofé's documentary puts us in the front-seat of an investigative journalist's journey into the abyss, where people commonly disappear, and cops fear to tread.
Back in the early ‘90s, David Holthouse was at the wrong cannabis farm at the wrong time. While working undercover on the farm, he overheard a frantically told story about three Mexican workers who were torn to shreds, murdered by Bigfoot. For decades he's never been sure if it was true, but it does match other stories about Bigfoot, in which workers had rocks thrown at them from the woods, and had heard rumbling sounds in the forest. Episode one of “Sasquatch” documents various people talking about Bigfoot as scientific fact, like a story they're waiting for the rest of the world to catch up with. One self-proclaimed hunter talks about being crushed while in a tent; another talks of seeing the eyes of Bigfoot at 2AM one night when he was 10 years old, and has been trying to understand it since.
This first episode is a bit of a Trojan horse for a true-crime story, and it almost backfires. Yes, it’s fascinating that the doc almost reaches levels of investigating Bigfoot’s existence, to prove that the crime happened, but it plays, initially, as simply quirky. Thankfully, “Sasquatch” is about far more than that—its initial ideas of a deadly myth, and trying to hunt a myth, are more of a context in how to watch the rest, as Holthouse's interviews lead to more unsolved mysteries. Even as the documentary nearly forgets Sasquatch and the kooky characters, they come back with thematic urgency that makes the human elements all the more striking. And in the sharpness of Rofé’s documentary, it moves beyond these ideas without tokenizing them as kooky comic relief. They believe what they believe, but “Sasquatch” is on to something else.
Rofé expands to focus on the competitive, dangerous cannabis business up in those northern California mountains, and to understand the culture of lawlessness and racism that permeates. It touches upon how the 19th century gold rush brought hopeful business people to the land, but not the most honorable, and that happened with a type of dope rush in the later 20th century—sure there were some hippies, but they were heavily armed, and there were Hell’s Angels too. Scene by scene, the documentary establishes a great deal of power in these parts, especially at the reclusive location of Spy Rock, where bodies are often found.
“Sasquatch” proves to be an incredibly savvy true-crime doc that naturally evolves from light-hearted to complete darkness, with Holthouse’s investigation taking him to circles and informants who are less and less comfortable with talking. The murder that Holthouse heard about back in the early ‘90s is more of a passing window into an entire secret world, in which members of its hierarchy have to be blurred out and with voice alterations as Holthouse talks to them. In one of Rofé’s small but essential choices, even the very mention of the alleged killer creates an unease—the audio glitches his name out like radio interference, and a text block of “ALLEGED KILLER” covers it.
Rofé’s documentary accomplishes a great deal by making it Holthouse’s show—the investigator is usually the one interviewing fearful figures with secrets to tell, or filming handheld footage of progressively ominous conversations. Holthouse becomes a fascinating figure in his own right, with Rofé giving just enough light to his personal history of stalking and hunting (as an investigative journalist not afraid of monsters, and as someone who later stalked the man who sexually assaulted him). “Sasquatch” has the very modern appeal of a hunt, even though it makes you more and more fearful of what David will find, or if he’s going to ask the wrong question to the wrong person. With its sharp narrative focus in episodes two and three, the series creates an unease that also parallels the absolute need to know what’s going to happen next. “Sasquatch” is compulsively watchable in that way, as Holthouse’s obsession with a deadly myth becomes our own.
This review was filed as part of our SXSW 2021 Film Festival coverage. "Sasquatch" will be available on Hulu on April 20.