Sasquatch Sunset

Sasquatch Sunset (2024)

Sasquatch Sunset opens with a literal fulfilment of its title’s promise: after a montage of deep forest locations, a family of four sasquatch – the alpha (Nathan Zellner), his mate (Riley Keough), a younger male (Jesse Eisenberg) and a child (Christophe Zajac-Denek) – is seen to emerge, and to traverse a mountain ridge, silhouetted by a brilliant red sun descending the sky behind them. While there is no David Attenborough-like voiceover, and no intradiegetic camera – indeed no humans at all, even if we do gradually see evidence of their encroachment into this hermetic Humboldt County habitat – brothers David and Nathan Zellner’s feature plays like a documentary, intimately observing these creatures’ behaviours across the span of a year.

There is of course another, more metaphorical meaning encoded in the title. For Sasquatch Sunset is also implicitly bearing witness to the approach of a species’ extinction. While all four sasquatch might periodically thump out a signal on trees, the reply that they seek from others never comes. While they continue to procreate in what are increasingly incestuous unions, they are also threatened – and killed – in larger numbers than they can possibly replace. And while, despite the patriarch’s basic backwardness, they show evidence of evolving – their deployment of basic tools and observation of funerary rites, the younger male’s dedicated (if vain) efforts to conceptualise numbers beyond five (or even beyond three), the child’s puppeteering of its own hand as an imaginary friend, the female’s confused discovery of music and self-reflection – they have been left far behind by the unseen humans who are colonising and collapsing their territory. There may still be hope for another generation, but this cryptid clan appears to be reaching the end of their line and witnessing their own sunset.

  So even as Sasquatch Sunset is full of comic scenes involving playful high jinks, the creatures’ involuntary or wilful use of their bodily functions, and the alpha male’s hilariously frustrated appetites, it also comes with a constant sense of danger (culminating several times in death) and a deep-seated melancholy. For as these gentle if cantankerous and not always graceful creatures of folk myth struggle to survive in an environment already hostile and now also rapidly changing, their fading away, though fictive, makes them stand in for all the species being wiped out by the Anthropocene epoch, so that their fate embodies a broader bittersweetness surrounding our age’s destruction of the natural world. The tone may at times be light, but this is an elegy.

Sasquatch Sunset is an unusual, perhaps even an experimental film. Its cast are concealed beneath animal suits and heavy make-up, and reduced to bringing out their characters’ differences through expressive eyework, grand gestures and grunts. Though noisy, the sasquatch are non-verbal, and there is no dialogue. The narrative is measured in births and deaths, in encounters with the human world (if not quite with humans) and in the passing of the seasons. There is a temptation to liken it to William Dear’s Harry and the Hendersons (1987), but there are closer analogues in the ‘Dawn of Man’ sequence (a phrase which the title Sasquatch Sunset slyly inverts) from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), in Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Quest For Fire (1981) and even in Steve Oram’s Aaaaaaaah! (2015). For this offers a naturalist’s view of its semi-anthropic subjects’ drives and development, and in so doing holds up a mirror to us too, stripped down to our most primal instincts, and doomed to watch our own sunset.   

strap: David and Nathan Zellner’s bittersweet elegy for the Anthropocene era finds the best and worst of humanity in its cryptid characters’ destiny of decline

© Anton Bitel