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‘Sasquatch Sunset’: A wild, woolly elegy for creatures that never existed

1 month ago 43

(3.5 stars)

“Sasquatch Sunset” is either the silliest movie you’ll see in 2024 or one of the most unexpectedly affecting, but like the meme says, why not both? A year in the life of a family of Bigfoots — Bigfeet? — it functions simultaneously as slow-motion slapstick, a very hairy nature documentary and a melancholy portrait of creatures not unlike us as they confront their own disappearance from the Earth.

With no narration and no dialogue beside grunts, hoots and warbles, the movie effectively puts an audience on the same (big)footing as the characters as they traverse the empty forests of the Pacific Northwest looking for food, a warm place to sleep and the company of their own kind. There are four of them: a cranky old alpha male (Nathan Zellner), a matriarch (Riley Keough), a younger male (Jesse Eisenberg) and a kid (Christophe Zajac-Denek). The costumes by creature suit designer Steve Newburn are so shaggily convincing that you quickly forget you’re watching human actors, yet the performers invest their characters with soulfulness and something halfway between dignity and absurdity. Which pretty much sums up the eternal Sasquatch condition, if you will, and maybe that of any genetic first cousins as well.

Is there a plot? If you don’t count life itself, not as such. Our hirsute heroes wander through woods, meadows and rivers with the slightly dazed caution of people wondering where everybody else has gone. Every so often, they set up a ritualistic drumming on tree trunks along with a specialized high-pitched call meant to travel long distances, followed by long pauses of listening for a response that fails to come. Then it’s on to the next patch of forest.

There’s comedy in their interactions, though, and some primal and universal urges. Specifically horniness: The alpha male is more or less continually tumescent — we all know guys like him, right? — and the matriarch has long since had enough. A scene in which the big fella ingests some hallucinogenic mushrooms and, in an advanced priapic state, goes off to find something, anything, to mate with does not end especially well. Just pretend you’re watching an episode of “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.” (Note to Zoomers: This was a TV show, back when TVs had only three channels.)

Who’s responsible for this wonderful oddity? That would be Nathan and David Zellner, Texas-based brothers who have collaborated on writing, directing and acting in a series of deadpan independent films, among them the Western pastiche “Damsel” (2018) and the marvelous “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” (2014), about a Japanese woman convinced the buried treasure in the movie “Fargo” is still out there, waiting to be found. That reference aside, the Zellner brothers are not the Coen brothers. They’re weirder.

But they’re also capable, at their best, of nailing a tone of combined humor, pathos, eccentricity and wonder, all of which “Sasquatch Sunset” has in spades. It seems exactly right that one of the creatures is played by Eisenberg, normally a notoriously chatty performer; even under the hair suit, one senses a neurotic — and completely understandable — anxiety about what awaits the character and his clan around the next river bend. Also, the existence of a movie where Elvis Presley’s granddaughter plays a Bigfoot is either a sign of the end times or a reminder that we live in the greatest country on Earth.

There are no Homo sapiens to be seen in “Sasquatch Sunset” and only occasional evidence of our presence. Yet the overall vibe is quietly elegiac, as if the Bigfeet are aware they’re living in a world that’s no longer theirs — that a species that has managed to live out of sight of human civilization is on the verge of dwindling and disappearing unseen, leaving behind only legends, fuzzy home-movie “proof” and bad 1970s pseudo-documentaries. The Zellners mourn with poignant lunacy the vanishing not only of an animal that never existed but of our belief in a world where they might have, and with it the impenetrable wildness they call home. “Sasquatch Sunset” is a goofball curio touched with genuine sadness. It’s “The Cherry Orchard” of cryptozoology.

R. At area theaters. Some sexuality, full Bigfoot nudity and bloody images. 89 minutes.

Ty Burr is the author of the movie recommendation newsletter Ty Burr’s Watch List at tyburrswatchlist.com.

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