Sasquatch Sunset

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Sasquatch Sunset
"David and Craig Zellner aren’t just here to make us laugh - although they certainly achieve that - they’re also in the business of building a detailed and delicate world around a year in the life of their creatures that proves surprisingly poignant." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Sasquatch is a funny word, the sounding out of it likely to prompt a smile even before you consider the mythical beast that lies behind it. And the idea of comedy is only bolstered by the suggestion of a dialogue-free film featuring actors in Bigfoot outfits. But filmmaking brothers David and Nathan Zellner aren’t just here to make us laugh - although they certainly achieve that - they’re also in the business of building a detailed and delicate world around a year in the life of their creatures that proves surprisingly poignant.

It starts with the exquisitely rendered costume design from Steve Newburn, which the Zellners have judiciously chosen to only include a distant glimpse of in the pre-publicity still for the film. The sasquatches are most certainly hirsuit, but there’s a soulfulness to the face design that achieves the sort of connection that Planet Of The Apes once did. These creatures are alien but also perhaps not so far removed from us, their primal grunts and behaviours speaking to an essential desire to communicate. The design is perfectly drawn from animals we are familiar with so that, when shot with one eye on the natural environment by Michael Gioulakis, they seem every bit as real as the other creatures we see, including a majestic mountain lion. The sasquatches also, as hinted at by the film’s title, appear to be living on borrowed time in an increasingly fragile world.

You’ll be hard pushed to recognise their famous faces but beneath the fur suits lie Jesse Eisenberg and Riley Keogh – a ‘mating pair’ of sasquatch – along with Nathan Zellner as the group’s alpha male and Christophe Zajac-Denek, who appears to be an adolescent. The Zellners immerse us in the sasquatches’ world, which revolves around a considerable amount of eating and grooming along with an operatic level of territorial marking. Humour is initially the dominant mood as the alpha male makes his intentions known in no uncertain terms while Keogh’s creature rebuffs him. This does raise questions of how it is that an alpha male isn’t the dominant partner in the group but by this point you’re likely to be so sold on the scenario thanks to the directors’ beautiful world building that you won’t care too much.

Bodily functions abound and the directors make both good use of slapstick and counterpoint cutaways to other animals in the forest. But beneath all that we can see that these simple creatures are living a parlous existence that, given the smallness of the group to begin with, quickly feels like an existential threat.

Humans are present not in person but in deed. The sasquatches reaction to discovering a road is the sort of thing the word ‘tragicomic’ was invented for and their encounter with a spot that is being used as a camp for the night features one of the best 1980s needle drops I can remember. The music, in general, from the Zellners regular collaborators The Octopus Project is evocative of places where the wild things are and supportive of the action more generally. The Zellners’ trick is simply this, they make you believe that sasquatches exist at the same time as filling you with sadness that we might be about to drive them, and a lot more besides, to extinction.

Reviewed on: 07 Feb 2024
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A year in the life of a singular family.

Director: David Zellner, Nathan Zellner

Writer: David Zellner

Starring: Riley Keough, Jesse Eisenberg, Nathan Zellner, Christophe Zajac-Denek

Year: 2024

Runtime: 89 minutes

Country: US


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