Brothers David and Nathan Zellner have wowed audiences with their previous works, like 2014’s “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” and 2018’s “Damsel.” Ever the eccentric duo, their movies tend to be a comedy showcase while inspiring some life lessons along the way. Often, they tread towards urban legends as themes in their films, which speaks to their newest obsession with the North American mythical figure of Bigfoot.
You know Bigfoot. He, or she, is often described as a giant hairy ape upright on two legs walking around the forests of the Pacific Northwest. Many have claimed to have seen Bigfoot, but few have captured the creature on film, or so they claim. But what does Bigfoot, aka Sasquatch, do when they aren’t simply walking around waiting for tourists to take their picture?
David and Nathan Zellner based this feature film off a previous short film they worked on in 2010 called “Sasquatch Birth Journal 2,” and expanded ideas from that short to fit a narrative in this film that simply doesn’t function to its full potential.
“Sasquatch Sunset,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival Friday, seeks to answer that age-old question by showing what a Sasquatch does for the other 23 hours and 59 minutes of their day. From the Zellner brothers’ point of view, Sasquatch is like any other animal existing in nature. They prey on weaker animals, protect their kin from those that wish to harm them, live off the land in search of shelter, and eat, fart, and mate like other beasts.
“Sasquatch Sunset” is a big swing and an unfortunate miss. The film starts out strong with sweeping landscapes filled with lush green forests overlaid by mystical music from the Austin-based indietronica band The Octopus Project. But the music turns haunting as elements in the Sasquatches’ (Sasquatchi?) world turn upside down in stunning and horrific manner.
The Zellner brothers’ newest film adds to the pair’s peculiar entries, this time surrounding a full calendar year’s worth of experiences through the eyes of four members of a Sasquatch family. There are no words spoken for 89 minutes of screen time nor are any of the four actors in the film recognizable under an insurmountable amount of makeup, detailed prosthetics and bodysuits hairier than most animals in the wild. All four creatures communicate via non-verbal techniques like grunts and chest bumps.
Nathan Zellner takes on a dual role as co-director and actor, embodying the alpha male Sasquatch who literally thrusts his way through life horny, angry and drunk on fermented plants. His son, played by Christophe Zajac-Denek (“Twin Peaks”), is an innocent bystander to all the goings-on around the vast forest. Jesse Eisenberg (“The Social Network”) is a softer Sasquatch relative, choosing to partner with his female counterpart in Riley Keough (“Daisy Jones & The Six”). The film explores four chapters named for each season of the year, beginning with Eisenberg and Keough’s ape-like characters fornicating in the woods to usher in Spring.
What begins as a comedic powerhouse of miming and mesmerizing cinematography morphs into an unpleasant anthropological peek into the strangest episode of National Geographic. The star power in Eisenberg and Keough is wasted under a plethora of costuming that only reflect their expressive eyes.
The four form an unstoppable group until nature and weather have their say. The film strips down to the bare minimum of what life has to offer, signifying sex, food, shelter and safety as priorities for each of the family members. But, as the year goes on, the foursome faces obstacles threatening their way of life and altering their perception of reality. They are not alone in the forests and quickly discover that humans and other animals surround them in mysterious ways.
By the time Fall and Winter arrive the ape shtick loses its luster. The realization of harsh outdoor conditions and a ridiculously outlandish Sasquatch birth scene derail a once comedic take on the fictional creature. The film revels in its weirdness and attempts to entertain in every chapter along the way, but the hairy brood seems to decrease in numbers as the movie progresses. Changes in tone and existential challenges, though consequential and often dangerous, don’t match the otherwordly presentation by the time the credits roll.
Executive produced by Ari Aster, “Sasquatch Sunset” is sometimes hilarious, often unique, and otherwise forgettable. A year in the life of a Sasquatch family might sound like a fun proposition to work with for a 90-minute comedy. Nevertheless, the reality of that proposition under the Zellner brothers’ direction is more bizarre than authentic.
Bleecker Street will release “Sasquatch Sunset.”
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