A project as bizarre as Sasquatch Sunset could have gone in so many directions. A feature-length narrative about a family of Bigfoots living in the wild with no dialogue whatsoever? When you add the fact that two of these Sasquatches are played by notable actors Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, Zombieland) and Riley Keough (Zola, Daisy Jones & the Six) in full costume and makeup, it’s easy to imagine such a film playing out like a more traditional comedy. But no, the filmmaking duo known as the Zellner brothers have chosen the most taboo route: adapting this concept like a nature documentary. While there are elements of absurdism and pitch-black humor in Sasquatch Sunset, in all honesty, the greater picture at hand is much more profound than you would ever expect just from watching Bigfoots simply existing for an hour and a half.
Partially inspired by their 2011 short film Sasquatch Birth Journal 2, directors David and Nathan Zellner toy with genre conventions and defy the standards of movie categorization with Sasquatch Sunset. Fresh off directing episodes of The Curse, the brothers now find themselves backed by executive producer Ari Aster and his Square Peg production company. Their previous works – Kid-Thing, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, and Damsel (2018) – are seen as indie gems by some for fully embracing their peculiarness and oddball nature, and this will surely be no different. However, it feels worth saying that Sasquatch Sunset will certainly not be for everyone. Aside from there being zero dialogue (at least in English), the film is also extremely light on plot. This truly plays out like a wildlife documentary without narration, giving you the most bare fly-on-the-wall perspective on these Bigfoots.
Our Bigfoot family is made up of a father (co-director Nathan Zellner), a mother (Riley Keough), their older son (Jesse Eisenberg), and his younger brother (Christophe Zajac-Denek). Sasquatch Sunset kicks off in the spring when the Bigfoots are enjoying the cool breeze and filling their stomachs up with all kinds of fresh greens in lavish fields and forests far away from human civilization. Now, the Zellner brothers waste no time in establishing the film’s crude humor. We get a taste of the Sasquatch lifestyle right from the start, which believe it or not includes rough love-making. Yes, there is a mating scene between two Bigfoots early on, made all the more hilarious by how committed the actors are in costume. When you next notice that all the male Sasquatches’ privates are noticeable and just hanging out, you’ll think you’re watching some kind of a spoof.
However, Sasquatch Sunset offers more than just easy laughs. We see Bigfoots mate, get high on shrooms, throw their feces around like apes, and urinate on all kinds of things in fits of rage. Admittedly, at first, this all comes off as very silly and maybe too self-indulgent. Though the film’s documentary style soon makes you view them not as actors in hairy suits, but as animals. You’ll go from giggling at the sight of a giant ape-like creature scratching at its privates to thinking, “Yup, that’s what a Sasquatch does.” This transition within the viewer goes into full effect by the end of the first act when the film’s true ambitions are revealed. Our family of Sasquatches is suddenly faced with an unexpected tragedy. Their lives are forever changed, yet they must carry on as all things do if they hope to survive.
From here on out, we see how the Sasquatches adapt to the summer, fall, and winter. This is where the Zellner brother’s wildlife documentary approach begins to shine. The film’s levels of absurdity are now balanced with moments of natural beauty and unavoidable hardship. The Bigfoots migrate across the United States by the season, searching for others of their species along the way. They encounter larger signs of human civilization in their travels – whether it be a concrete road or power poles – signaling a mysterious threat to their existence. They react in all kinds of hysterical ways to these shocking discoveries, as any unknowing animal would. Just like in the best real-life nature documentaries, you’ll go from laughing at the wild antics on screen to feeling deep empathy for these beasts on the turn of a dime.
David Zellner’s script does a fantastic job of keeping your undivided attention with Sasquatch hijinks that often escalate into life-threatening danger. You can feel the tension in the air slowly rise as we’re reminded that as goofy and innocent as these Bigfoots are, they’re still not safe from the harsh realities of Mother Nature. Strangely, you can almost imagine how the legendary David Attenborough would narrate Sasquatch Sunset during these gripping scenes. Throughout the movie, we learn how the Sasquatches both celebrate life and honor death, documented beautifully by cinematographer Mike Gioulakis (Us, Old). It’s hard not to be swept away by vast shots of our Bigfoots traveling across wondrous mountains and valleys, but the smaller intimate moments, like them sniffing skunks and counting the stars, are also just as moving. Plus, when the lovely score via The Octopus Project takes over, you’re left in total awe.
Jesse Eisenberg, Riley Keough, Christophe Zajac-Denek (Twin Peaks: The Return), and Nathan Zellner are all quite admirable as our Sasquatch family. They each have their own quirks and habits while abiding by strict Bigfoot communication patterns. It’s clear that they established a specific language and behavioral system as a collective before shooting, and it makes them all practically unrecognizable in their performances. With the help of their unique Bigfoot designs, you’ll give up quickly trying to recognize Eisenberg or Keough through their costumes and layers of makeup. You’re always immersed in the film thanks to their sheer dedication. Eisenberg can be a real charmer as a Sasquatch, though it’s Keough and Denek who are the real MVPs. The pair captures a genuine astonishment at the world as mother and son, especially in one scene where they stumble upon a human campsite and discover the music of hit ’80s band Erasure.
It’s a tough world out there for a Sasquatch, and you’ll never forget that after watching this movie. To some, this will be tedious to sit through, which is fair because Sasquatch Sunset has a taboo mix of styles. On that same note, the film offers a unique payoff to those willing to give it their patience. Sasquatch Sunset highlights how endless natural wonders are hiding in plain sight, and you don’t need to be a Bigfoot to realize that. Every day brings a new challenge, a new adventure. But more than anything else, every day brings a discovery that’s not to be taken for granted. Who would have thought that this theme could be told so gracefully by watching a family of Sasquatches grunt at each other? Sasquatch Sunset is a profound miracle of a film, one that will forever be one of a kind… just like Bigfoot.
Release Date: April 12, 2024.
Directed by Nathan Zellner & David Zellner.
Written by David Zellner
Produced by Lars Knudsen, Tyler Campellone, Nathan Zellner, David Zellner, George Rush, Jesse Eisenberg, & David Harrari
Main Cast: Riley Keough, Jesse Eisenberg, Christophe Zajac-Denek, & Nathan Zellner
Cinematographer: Mike Gioulakis.
Composer: The Octopus Project
Production Companies: Square Peg, ZBI, & The Space Program
Distributor: Bleecker Street
Runtime: 89 minutes.