Sasquatsch Sunset (Bleecker Street, R)

Sasquatch Sunset follows in the oversized footsteps of most Bigfoot lore, meaning it’s only as interesting as one finds the concept of Bigfoot by itself to be. If your interest stops at the border between weird Americana and full-on cryptozoology, you’re better off with the mild chuckle you’ll get out of the trailer than the sparse nose-puffs elicited by sitting through the feature length version. The premise and Sundance buzz contribute to a certain amount of hype, but once the film gets going, it becomes quite clear that the driving force behind it is novelty. There are, however, some interesting concepts being explored that may cause, for some viewers, a teetering between boredom and reserved engagement. Despite what the trailer may suggest, the film is more of a drama than a comedy, and it’s the dramatic moments which actually make the film stand out and transcend the constraints of gimmickry. 

The film depicts the trials of four Sasquatches over the course of a year. Since there’s no dialogue in the film, their relationships are never explicitly defined, but can most readily be interpreted as father (David Zellner), mother (Riley Keough), teenager (Jesse Eisenberg), and preteen (Christophe Zajac-Denek), although subsequent events bring into question the true nature of their connection to one another. It’s entirely possible that none of them are even biologically related, but potentially just the last remnants of their species. Both Zellner and Eisenberg’s sasquatches show romantic interest in Keough, while Zajac-Denek remains firmly in the child role throughout. So who really knows?

Most of the film is told through observational, nature-special type scenes, although there are a few conflicts that arise to break up the monotony. Zellner’s sasquatch acts as the alpha male, and an irascible and selfish one at that. Early on in the film, he mates aggressively with an unenthusiastic Keough, and then spends the rest of the film jealously guarding tasty fruit bushes and interfering with the rest of the group’s activities. Eisenberg comes across as a dimwitted but gentle beast and Zajac-Denec a curious and perhaps even prescient boy, not unlike Danny from The Shining (he even has a little imaginary hand friend). Because of Zellner-squatch’s irrational and domineering behavior, things in the opening “Spring” segment of the film are less than harmonious. As the seasons change and the film moves into new segments, the nature of these conflicts evolve.

One thing becomes clear early on— the Sasquatches are nomadic and searching for others of their kind. Periodically, they grab large sticks and bang rhythmically on trees before pausing, listening to see if their signal is returned. Each season passes with no response and, without spoiling anything, diminishing size of their party. And as they become a smaller and smaller unit, their encounters with signs of civilization increase, whether they be red X’s on trees marked for cutting, a freshly cleared access road, or an unoccupied logging outfit. As group members come face to face with the destructive forces of nature they become less and less free from the presence of humans, culminating in an immersion in human culture that introduces these primitive beings to their own significance in our world, and therefore their first dalliance with the uncanny, with that same feeling of the mysterious other that fuels our interest in them. While most Bigfoot stories detail our efforts to discover evidence of Sasquatch, Sasquatch Sunset details unwitting Sasquatches discovering evidence of humanity. With each successive step towards this conclusion, they lose another piece of themselves, often due to the cruel whims of nature.

All in all, the commitment from the actors, great makeup, and clever reversals make Sasquatch Sunset a charming though underwhelming affair. The few moments of true excitement come from its brief but poignant depictions of the tragedy of fate and, conversely, visceral, bodily-fluid based comedy. The film takes on the shape of its characters. Nestled within its absurdist, scatalogical fur is a form resembling something human. | Nic Champion

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