Sasquatch Sunset: Bigfoot comedy combines gross-out humour with high-end craftsmanship

A family of sasquatches must contend with harsh weather, dangerous predators, and existential dread in the Zellner Brothers’ smart cryptozoological satire.

Jesse Eisenberg as The Male in Sasquatch Sunset (2024)

The title of Nathan and David Zellner’s comedy Sasquatch Sunset is self-consciously goofy; it suggests a potently aromatic new brand of male body spray, or maybe a dubious designer coffee blend. It’s also completely true to the contents of a movie that either defies typical taxonomy or stretches it to a kind of breaking point. For instance: is it advisable – or even possible – to craft a piece of cryptozoological ethnography? What about cryptozoological ethnographic satire/climate-change allegory, veiled in end-of-history melancholy and featuring multiple outbursts of explosive diarrhoea? If one goal for ambitious filmmakers is to boldly go where no one else has gone before, then Sasquatch Sunset represents a giant leap. The question is, where does it lead?

In 2011, the Zellners released Sasquatch Birth Journal 2, a faux-found-footage classic depicting the miracle of life in five minutes of gooey real time, complete with wryly sanctimonious, National Geographic-style narration. This spiritual sequel, which comes just after the brothers directed several sterling episodes of the surreal Showtime comedy The Curse (2023), runs 90 minutes without a single word of spoken dialogue, either on the soundtrack or between its elaborately made-up human actors. Instead, the four leads – Jesse Eisenberg, Riley Keough, Christophe Zajac-Denek and Nathan Zellner, pulling double duty in front of and behind the camera – communicate via a loose system of grunts, chirps and sighs whose credibility is enough to establish their roles in an asymmetrical (and impliedly incestuous) family unit lurching their way through a secluded stretch of the Pacific Northwest.

Sasquatch Sunset (2024)

Eisenberg is the biggest star in the cast (and with the most recognisable set of eyes) but the most recessive presence; his character is a young(ish) adult male who shows glimmers of innovation and intellect (including a rudimentary understanding of maths) but still defers to his towering alpha-papa. The latter is played by Zellner, in a performance that suggests a creature feature directed by Paul Schrader – he’s a monstrous, posturing embodiment of patriarchal strength, bellowing his inchoate rage at the trees (and sometimes down the wrong cave). Between them sits Keough’s wife-mother hybrid, a figure of alert and ornery resourcefulness, and Zajac-Denek’s plucky, seemingly prepubescent youngster, an explorer whose face is yet unclouded by fear or experience. Having established the group’s various internal relationships – and their melancholy, apparently instinctive evening ritual of hailing fellow sasquatches via synchronised drumming patterns – the Zellners proceed to follow them through a narrative contoured to the changing of the seasons, including a particularly cruel summer that shifts the clan’s dynamics in lasting ways.

Beyond the fully committed and fitfully brilliant performances of its actors, all of whom seem to have suffered during an arduous location shoot, Sasquatch Sunset is a showcase for all manner of high-end craftsmanship. The marvellously textured cinematography is by Mike Gioulakis, who brings his gift for voyeuristic horror-movie dread to the fluid tracking shots; the surging electro-pastoral score by The Octopus Project strikes the right notes of anguished, glancing lyricism without overwhelming the action. (The Zellners do their own editing, with David Tarr, and the seamlessness of the storytelling is impressive). Technically and tonally, the film is solidly of a piece, and yet it finally feels too fragile to support any heavy-duty interpretations, a weakness that is not necessarily a criticism. On the contrary, the Zellners seem to recognise the futility – or pretentiousness – of pure allegory, which may be why they insist so strongly on scatological slapstick: full-body spasms yielding a range of precious bodily fluids rendered with explosive, Farrelly-esque gusto. These gross-outs suit the material, but they’re also strategic gestures, lowering our guard for a few, scattered moments of numinous, cosmic awe. A set piece at an abandoned composite directly evokes the Dawn of Man section of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), swapping the monolith for a bulbous analogue tape-deck and György Ligeti for Erasure – a substitution to bring a tear to the eye of any member of the Zellners’ own woebegone Gen X tribe. This scene and its mysteries briefly take the lumbering movie attached to it somewhere close to grace. The final shot, meanwhile, is not only predictable, but too clever by half: a punchline in a movie that would be more poetically punctuated by a question mark.

Sasquatch Sunset is in UK cinemas now.