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An absurdist comedy with plenty of heart, there’s more than meets the eye in “Sasquatch Sunset” — a marvel of original, fearless filmmaking.

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Even if you’re positive Bigfoot does not exist, like all enduring myths, it’s hard not sometimes to ask yourself, “But what if it did exist?”

If these creatures were real, what would they do all day? How would they find food, make shelter, communicate, reproduce, and care for their young? Most importantly, how would they co-exist in a world of humans while avoiding detection and dissection?

If a documentary film existed that promised to reveal these mysterious creatures’ uninterrupted and intimate day-to-day life, who among us wouldn’t tune in?

From the bizarre but brilliant minds of the Zellner Brothers (The Treasure Hunter, Kumiko) — writer and co-director David, and co-director and lead actor Nathan — Sasquatch Sunset is a wholly original, experimental attempt to offer just that: an immersive nature documentary following the year in the life of a small sasquatch family.

Of course, it’s a work of fiction. However, with its absence of dialogue and humans and its meandering plotline, it’s so unlike anything we’ve come to expect from narrative cinema that it doesn’t take long to buy into the conceit absolutely.

On paper, it’s a concept that should not work, yet, work it does, at least for the right audience.

While it’s far from mainstream fare and certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of cryptid tea (my SXSW audience seemed game, but word out of the Sundance premiere was that a good portion of the audience walked out), those who get it will be bowled over.

Like me, they’ll find themselves in a small but fervent group of “believers” who will forever sing this film’s praises, defend its honor, and add it to every “Underrated Must-See Movies” list.

It begins amidst the stunning beauty of the Pacific Northwest, with its mountainous ridges and lush redwood forests. Shot in Northern California, where the Bigfoot myth first originated thanks to the infamous Patterson–Gimlin film, Sasquatch Sunset cheekily picks up where that caught-on-tape film leaves off.

We meet a family of four sasquatches, three males and one female, though it’s never explicitly stated how they are related. Buried beneath layers of truly phenomenal makeup, costuming, and prosthetics, the A-list actors — Riley Keough, Jesse Eisenberg, Christophe Zajac-Denek, and Nathan Zellner — are virtually unrecognizable.

The film is divided into four chapters, following the creatures as they forage, frolic, mate, and migrate through four seasons in an often difficult struggle for survival against the elements and the cruel hand of fate.

I went into the film expecting an irreverent, absurdist comedy and was seduced by the idea of its insane premise.

To be sure, the Zellner brothers come out of the gate swinging with no shortage of crude, even juvenile, humor and a heavy reliance on bodily functions and swinging genitalia.

By the time things take a turn, with a shocking reminder that life in the wild is fraught with unseen dangers, you’re entirely disarmed and woefully unprepared for the emotional impact — making it that much more effective.

Slowly and skillfully, the film begins to reveal itself as something far more profound.

You realize the novelty of watching these fine thespians embodying grunting ape-like humanoid creatures has worn off, and you’re emotionally invested in their plight. You’ve forgotten you’re watching actors. You’ve forgotten all about the pee and poo jokes and the hysterical sasquatch sex.

Masterfully portraying the sasquatch as simultaneously animalistic and humanistic, the film starkly reminds us of how little truly separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom.

Their drive to survive, even when it feels impossibly hard, is deeply relatable. In the face of tragedy, heartbreak, loneliness, and fear, they keep going, just as we all do. They keep going because what else is there to do?

Without a single word, we understand everything these creatures feel in moments of joy and sadness.

It was a savvy decision to let the actors’ human eyes show through their exquisitely realistic costumes. This imbues the sasquatch with much-needed emotional resonance thanks to fully committed and unbelievably potent performances.

The actors are outstanding at emoting through primal grunts and physicality, and those expressive eyes speak volumes.

We care about what happens to them. We understand the loneliness and isolation they seem to feel, acutely aware somehow that they may be the very last of their kind. We fear for their safety, and there’s inevitable tension when the migrating sasquatch cross paths with troubling signs of human civilization.

Rest assured, however, that the introduction of emotional gravitas does not leave hilarity by the wayside.

Even as things escalate and the threat of humans becomes greater, the sasquatch react to their changing surroundings in all kinds of hilarious ways. In one of the film’s most shocking and laugh-out-loud ridiculous scenes sure to be the subject of much post-viewing fodder, the creatures encounter a manmade road cutting through the natural splendor.

What happens next is something I won’t dare spoil. However, those with strong stomachs may find their sides aching from the raunchy hijinks and absolute absurdity of it all.

There are also moments of extraordinary beauty.

Shot by Mike Gioulakis (It Follows, Us), the natural landscape is breathtaking. It’s a joy to see the sasquatch interacting with other creatures, big and small.

An animal handler brought in an array of tamed wildlife, including a well-trained mountain lion, for one pivotal and unforgettable scene, which really adds to the enjoyable, immersive nature of the film.

The way the sasquatch interact with their surroundings and each other is often quite funny but just as often tender and surprisingly warm.

At the start of this film, I wondered how the filmmakers would successfully stretch this unique but paper-thin concept into 90 minutes of watchable entertainment. By the end, I was gobsmacked by how subtle, brilliant, and mesmerizing the whole affair was.

The success of Sasquatch Sunset really seems to boil down to commitment. Everyone involved is giving it their absolute all, and it’s hard not to get swept up in that kind of sincerity.

Even when things get silly to the edge of stupidity, there’s a tremendous heart at the core of this film that keeps it from going over that edge.

It’s executed with technical mastery, making it a marvel to watch.

Sasquatch Sunset

Not only is it beautiful to look at, but the attention to detail is mind-blowing. The evocative score from The Octopus Project adds to the sense of uncanny immersion.

Sasquatch Sunset also provides the quintessential definition of actors who disappear into their roles. The performances are so convincing and utterly compelling that they’re impossible to look away from, no matter how much you may want to at times.

Like Bigfoot itself, it’s sometimes hard to believe a film like Sasquatch Sunset actually exists.

It’s gloriously strange and as off-putting as it is enticing, with wild tonal shifts that somehow work. One minute, it’s all zany fun and games and nonstop hilarity, and the next, it’s unexpectedly, astonishingly heartbreaking.

A provocative, highly original film, this Ari Aster-produced curiosity feels uber-niche while presenting a fairly astonishing ode to the universality of the human experience and the interconnectivity of all life on earth.

Ultimately, it’s a story about family, survival, and connection.

Sasquatch Sunset is quite a singular achievement that, like its subject matter, needs to be seen to be believed.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 4
SASQUATCH SUNSET was reviewed out of SXSW 2024; the film will open in select theaters on April 12, expanding nationwide on April 19.

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