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Sasquatch Sunset

Four tall, scruffy creatures amble through a storybook forest. They walk, they eat, they build shelter, and repeat. The group exchanges a wordless cacophony of grunts, screams, and whoops to communicate, but we are not privy to their conversations. Like a silent movie, we figure out the meaning of their language through movement, changes in pitch, and expressions. In “Sasquatch Sunset,” the audience is treated to a poetic animal documentary-like tale of survival, a meditation on nature and our relationship to it through the experiences of four sasquatches. David and Nathan Zellner's film may feel like it’s from another world—a different time, dimension, maybe even another planet—but the setting is actually pretty close to home. This is our day and age. The way we treat nature and the mysteries within it is less than revenant, but what can any one of us or our families do? 

Thankfully, there’s no nature doc voice-over to personify the sasquatches. That work falls to the furry shoulders of its cast—Jesse Eisenberg, Riley Keough, Christophe Zajac-Denek, and Nathan Zellner. They each create a character and bring it to life under layers and layers of prosthetics and costumes. Zellner’s creature is an older misfit who seems to resent his younger, happier companions. Zajac-Denek’s beast seems to be the youngest, a wide-eyed, curious babe who sometimes wanders too close to danger. Fortunately, Keough’s matriarch is often there to save him and looks out for the group's well-being while anticipating the birth of their new addition. Eisenberg’s patriarch is a gentler soul than Keough and Zellner’s sasquatches, and his playfulness is only bested by Zajac-Denek’s spirited creature. 

Charming as it may seem, there are real threats to the mythical bipedal residents, and the cruelty of the forest reveals itself quickly. Panthers, poisons, and general mortal danger are just as dangerous to us as they are to them. Eventually, the sasquatch wanderings lead them to the discovery of human existence, and the rude awakening sends them into an overwhelming wave of ape-like rage. One thing nature documentaries tend to shy away from showing is something the Zellners lean into for comedy, and that’s to show the animal having sex, scratching and smelling themselves, and demonstrating their displeasure by peeing and pooping. The Zellners may have shown the most sasquatch bodily fluids in any film, but that might not be everyone’s idea of a fun time at the movies. 

Because there’s not a drop of dialogue in “Sasquatch Sunset,” our mind is free to roam the forest with these big-footed creatures, take in the early morning sun streaming through the tree leaves, marvel at the fog twisting through the mountains, look at other critters who call the forest home, vibe to sounds of The Octopus Project, the Austin-based band that provides the chill synth notes that accompany this strange trip. Mike Gioulakis’ enchanting sun-soaked cinematography could easily double for a tourism ad, but it seems as if this film is pleading for humans to leave these natural spaces alone. David Zellner, who wrote the film, gives the sasquatch family enough to cope without human costars, but our intrusion in their space is undoubtedly felt. For many of us, their story may seem like a fantasy to imagine surviving on found berries and fresh fish guts, but at its core, the fight to survive, to find companionship, and to keep one’s family safe are terribly relatable struggles. Well, once you get past the fuzzy costumes and nary a discernible word for the runtime. 

But it takes quite a bit of suspension of disbelief to accept the sasquatch tribe, and some of the sillier aspects of the film became too much for me to stay in its contemplative state. It took a second screening to better appreciate what the Zellners brought to the screen, but for some, that might not be enough to get past some of the movie’s weirder notes. “Sasquatch Sunset” is a wildly ambitious project that wrestles with reality and fantasy, the familiar and unfamiliar, to stir our emotions and longing for natural beauty through the work of four actors in what looks like very uncomfortable costumes. Yet, there’s a novelty to this bigfoot sighting that might pique one’s curiosity even if it’s not meant to be believable.

Monica Castillo

Monica Castillo is a critic, journalist, programmer, and curator based in New York City. She is the Senior Film Programmer at the Jacob Burns Film Center and a contributor to RogerEbert.com.

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Sasquatch Sunset movie poster

Sasquatch Sunset (2024)

89 minutes

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