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Sasquatch Sunset

Writer-director brother duo Nathan and Daniel Zellner conjure into existence American folklore creature, the sasquatch, most commonly known as Big Foot - unbelievably realistic film shows at the Berlinale Special

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This ape-humanoid resembling bipedal primate has tickled pink pseudoscientists and conspiracy theorists for decades, with more than 10,000 supposed reported sightings. The film, which premiered at Sundance in January, envisions what a year in the life of a small group of sasquatch would look like. It’s an offbeat comedy that masquerades itself as an immersive nature documentary, where an observant camera follows their trials and tribulations traversing through the mountainous woodland of Northern America.

The four members of this migrating community are played by Riley Keough, Jesse Eisenberg, Christophe Zajac-Denek, and Nathan Zellner himself; all unrecognisable in incredibly convincing life-like costumes and make up. The sasquatch appear taller and bigger than humans, covered entirely in hair with thick stubby feet and hands and droopy eyes. There is an inclining perhaps they are all related, with just one female/ mother (played by Keogh). At first there is no obvious distinction between male and female, but as behavioural and biological patterns emerge so do physiological differences, such as dangling penises, enlarged breasts and a protruding pregnant belly.

It’s hard not to anthropomorphise them, specifically their facial expressions; sporting a permanent downtrodden look, which could be read as sad, silly or just plain bored. The directors make a precise choice to keep them as animalistic as possible completely at the behest of their primal instincts. The primary driving force is food, journeying through the densely arboreal peaks scanning for seasonal food. Seemingly an omnivorous diet where everything is much up for devouring, from leaves, berries, bugs, bird’s eggs to fish. A hilarious if fatal scene of one the more buffoon-y and peacock-ey of the males, goes on rampant spree after getting drunk on overripe berries and deliriously high on red-buttoned mushrooms.

The attention to detail here is extraordinary, specifically in the beings themselves attributed to all the actors’ remarkable deliveries. Their manner and reactions feel studied and strikingly true-to-life, that is if the sasquatch ever existed; effectively conveying their primordial responses to their environment and to each other. The female is constantly warding off the advances of the adult males. The males possess a greater sense of curiosity and have a propensity to show off. Each sasquatch is continuously asserting its boundaries, its place within the group, yet these relational dynamics are in a constant state of flux directly affected by the uncontainable forces of nature.

The slight caveat comes from the CGI embellishments used, mostly with the insertion of other wild animals such as dear and tigers into the picture. They appear a tad too simulated, as the camera lingers on them too long their fakeness becomes more apparent, deterring from the scrupulous realism that presides the film everywhere else.

For all the comedy that comes from just pure observation of these often silly beings, there is an underpinning of sadness. They are vulnerable, despite their size and place in the food chain they still appear to be under constant threat. On occasion the threat comes from their own doing, signalling the limits of their mental capacity. Even though they do exhibit some advanced cognisance in comparison to other forest animals; they’re able to perform various rituals such as burial ceremonies and send signals. There is also a sense of desolateness, again perhaps there is a degree of anthropomorphising here, but there is something very longing about them, as if they the only sasquatch left in existence.

This is heightened somewhat by the absence of humans. There are only remnants of human activity, whether its tents, cut tree barks, tractors, even a Big Foot museum alluding to a sci-fi component hinting of a human wipe out it – at some point we see a cloud of smoke in the distance. This would explain how these sasquatches have been able to roam free throughout the year uninterrupted. Sasquatch Sunset is an amusing watch, one that feels fresh and original, a must see if it actually ever reaches a screen near you.

Sasquatch Sunset premiered at the Berlinale Special section of the 74th Berlin International Film Festival:


By Daniel Theophanous - 23-02-2024

Daniel has contributed to publications such as Little White Lies, BFI, Tape Collective, Hyperallergic, DMovies and many others. A lot of Daniel’s work is focused on LGBTQI+ cinema and hosts a podcas...

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