Credit: Bleecker Street
by Morris Yang Featured Film Genre Views

Sasquatch Sunset — David Zellner & Nathan Zellner

April 29, 2024

What would Andrew Tate or the late Theodore J. Kaczynski make of Sasquatch Sunset? The litmus tests of this cinematic curio, which is more or less discernible as a mash-up of nature-doc parody and speculative anthropology, are many and — depending on one’s attitude toward contemporary social reality — quite possibly circumscribed within context. Fans of Bigfoot, apart from enthralling themselves with the monstrous pawprints, bizarre reports, and elusive claims to sightings, also enjoy the legend’s caricatural comforts: hairy and untamed, the sasquatch posits a break from humdrum modernity, free to piss and maul and shit and growl wherever it likes in the Pacific Northwest evergreens. The author of Industrial Society and Its Future, then, might’ve taken a fancy to his furry neighbor were it not for his deeper Thoreauvian sensibilities. Maybe Tate too, alongside the rest of the manosphere’s traditionalists and preachers of a staunch premodern, would find solace in traipsing through nature and harvesting her spoils, horny, high, and unhindered by social justice.

David and Nathan Zellner’s latest feature, however, both underestimates and oversells its conceptual gimmick for a more palatable blend of wacky, leaving its potential for genuine provocation untapped. The wavelength of Sasquatch Sunset is essentially anthropomorphic: amidst the lush, verdant mist of forest and river, a group of sasquatches emerges, roaming within the considerable expanse and observing life with no little interest. It’s an odd family, admittedly, to the modern eye: the male (Jesse Eisenberg) isn’t quite the leader of the pack, but subordinate to a larger, meaner alpha (played by Nathan) who gets first dibs on mushrooms and berries but not the female (Riley Keough), who doggedly rebuffs his comic attempts at mating while pregnant with his seed. Their remaining member (Christophe Zajac-Denek), likely the female’s first child, appears content in the company of the beta, frolicking and munching nettles while spring sets in. Birds chirp, butterflies flutter by, and the odd rodent looks on at their sparse, wordless proceedings, an exotic panoply of pre-linguistic growls, grunts, shrieks, hollers, and pelvic thrusts.

These are the last holdouts of the wild, the Zellners seem to be telling us, disclosing gradually the sasquatches’ contemporaneity with our own. Though not exactly so: the film takes place sometime in the ’90s, helpfully bookmarked by the 1991 Erasure hit “Love to Hate You.” The reveal midway through Sasquatch Sunset that this isn’t some prehistoric Eden proves disarming, due in part to the film’s ethnographic leanings. The actors don bulky fursuits and sweat it out under grizzled skin, but their eyes and basic physiognomy remain recognizable beneath, conveying emotion and a certain longing to make sense of their terrestrial space from day to day. They wipe their genitals post-coitus with assortments of leaves, strike the trunks of trees in unison as a signaling mechanism, and display playfully anthropomorphic traits on occasion, such as the seeming use of a turtle as phone-like contraption. The beta male goes further, counting various objects — stars, spotted eggs, tree rings — though never successfully beyond three. An evolutionary tale of humanity, no less, could easily be wrought from these efforts, whether in some bygone past or for the distant, reincarnated future.

Traces of this tale are, in fact, strewn throughout Sasquatch Sunset, taking their cue from the seasonal and behavioral changes, respectively, of the land and its inhabitants. Unfortunately, the Zellners’ oddball instincts prevail, and they overplay their hand with toilet humor and an inclination toward the non-sequitur. This, especially in light of the group’s discovery of human habitation, drastically cheapens the premise of recognition, whether between humans and humanoids or of the former’s endeavors by the latter. Stretched thin even within a sub-90 runtime, the film sputters through bouts of amusement and volleys of bodily substances sprayed, exchanged, and lobbed all about, its contemplative soundtrack (by The Octopus Project) aired across swathes of carefree days in which the hirsute natives of the valley play out their soon-clichéd lives. A tragicomedy about the “Return to Monke” conceit would, using the sasquatch DNA, explore the difficult distinction between the natural and the artificial, its conclusions likely poignant and ironic. With Sasquatch Sunset, the titular dusk doesn’t really settle, and its morose final shot, weighty in its own right, feels a bit like an afterthought.

DIRECTOR: David Zellner & Nathan Zellner;  CAST: Riley Keough, Jesse Eisenberg, David Zellner, Christophe Zajac-Denek;  IN THEATERS: April 12;  DISTRIBUTOR: Bleecker Street;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 29 min.