‘Sasquatch Sunset’ Hilariously Follows a Bigfoot Family With Bestial Tenderness 

Urban legends or folktales tend to originate from some kernel of truth. Part of the appeal of the whole Sasquatch a.k.a. Bigfoot legend is that on some level, it’s easy to believe its plausibility. Deep in those vast American forests, couldn’t some undiscovered species be roaming about? Directors David and Nathan Zellner decide to take the question literally with “Sasquatch Sunset.” Already one of the year’s most unique indies, it’s not consciously a “Bigfoot movie.” The Zellners have made a wild hybrid of a nature documentary and family journey. If you’re the kind of viewer who is easily moved by the way Disney nature films seem to create personalities or narratives out of the creatures they cover, this film will summon the same feeling over its Sasquatch clan.

In a misty North American forest, a pack of Sasquatches go about their existence. That’s the basic plot. There’s no dialogue, just grunting. There are two larger ones (Riley Keough and Nathan Zellner), a shorter one (Jesse Eisenberg) and the youngest (Christophe Zajac-Denec). Though the landscapes are picturesque, it’s hard out here for a Bigfoot. The foursome look for food, build shelters utilizing foliage and face threats like local mountain lions. As tends to happen, the bigger male gets the urge to copulate but the female might not be in the mood, provoking angry stomping around. Four seasons pass and the Sasquatches live and walk through warm springtime, chilly winter and scorching summer. Nature is their abode but in the very distance there’s a hint of other dangers in the form of looming forest fires. 

“Sasquatch Sunset” feels authentic because it approaches the idea as if bringing back some bygone species, not a mythical creature. Forget “Harry and the Hendersons” or the endless B-movie horror titles, this is a work in the same league as Jean-Jacques Annaud’s “Quest for Fire,” a stirring imagining of early humans trying to, well, make fire. “Most of the Bigfoot movies made were always either family films or horror films,” David Zellner tells Entertainment Voice, “when writing the script I liked the idea of making it about the Sasquatches themselves and being immersed in their world without judgment.” That kind of immersion works so well because even the obviously comedic moments don’t feel calculated. When the Sasquatches defecate in their hands to throw it at some crows eating a corpse, the moment is both hilarious but reminiscent of the animal kingdom. If you get grossed out by how the Sasquatches eat fish, ask yourself how our dining norms must look to your pet dog or cat. 

As we’re eased into the world of “Sasquatch Sunset,” the players become so familiar that we stop asking questions. Instead, it becomes easier to be immersed in the harmony of the movie. A Sasquatch gazing at a butterfly takes on an elegiac quality. A birth sequence is comic but ultimately moving since it transforms into a wonderfully simple statement on the cycle of life. Like the funny things animals do in nature documentaries, the Sasquatches come across a highway and urinate on it out of confusion. The Zellners like to maneuver between comedy and drama, playing with genres as in the western “Damsel,” or “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter,” which was based on an urban legend about a woman trying to find the cash buried in “Fargo.” It can be slapstick and naturalistic, but never deviating from the richer theme. When one of the Sasquatches eats some mushrooms and goes on a trip, it’s both funny and a testament to the absurdity of some mistakes that occur by chance. These actors are having so much fun while working hard, evoking genuine emotion under all the makeup. What they do is harder than flawlessly delivering a monologue. 

There is sorrow too, because life is life no matter what species. Distant forest fires also signal the encroachment of humans (though we never see them). Holding a family together means enduring heartbreak as well. Death can drop in at any time, for the young and old. Such profound reflections are not expected in a Bigfoot flick, yet “Sasquatch Sunset” gets into that zone. By the end, the big hairy creatures are no longer myths, but mirror reflections of us. They love, desire and seek basic comforts. They can find peace in enjoying smelling a flower yet get enraged when not getting their way. We keep hoping Bigfoot exists, without realizing we’re already curious beasts. As Nathan Zellner tells Entertainment Voice, “That was the most important thing, to establish a sense of empathy and relatability. It’s about relating to this mythical creature on a human level. In a way the whole movie is exploring the human condition.”

Sasquatch Sunset” releases April 12 in select theaters and expands April 19 in theaters nationwide.