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film review
  • Sasquatch Sunset
  • Directed by David and Nathan Zellner
  • Written by David Zellner
  • Starring Riley Keough, Jesse Eisenberg and Nathan Zellner
  • Classification N/A; 89 mins
  • Opens in select theatres April 19

According to the press notes for Sasquatch Sunset, brothers and co-directors David and Nathan Zellner had wanted to make a film about the famed creature for years. Their first cinematic foray was a short called Sasquatch Birth Journal No. 2, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011 and is described as a “grainy, absurdist short.” They’d dreamt of making a feature-length version about the mythical man of the woods. A couple of films (Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter and Damsel) and TV series later, frustrated by delays in other projects, David wrote a script – a film seemingly impossible to make.

That script intrigued Jesse Eisenberg, then Riley Keogh and finally Christophe Zajac-Denek. Turns out it was Eisenberg signing on to play one of the four sasquatches that got the project rolling. I would love to see a copy of the script because I am still flummoxed as to how this film got made – especially since there is no dialogue.

Eisenberg has said, “By the third page I realized this is just the most brilliant thing. It’s the absolute perfect mixture of the unusual with the relatable. The premise seems completely bonkers and esoteric but it’s mixed with this hysterically lovable cast of characters and a story that resonates on a human level far more effectively than most stories about human beings.”

Did the script, for example, devote an entire page to how Eisenberg, Keogh, Zajac-Denek and Zellner would precisely chew cud while staring into the middle distance? Did it have extensive notes on how the four hairy creatures would walk across Humboldt County in Northern California, building thatched shelters along the way? Was it just pages and pages of description, punctuated by a couple of grunts every 10 to 15 pages?

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Jesse Eisenberg signing on to play one of the four sasquatches got the project rolling.Supplied

On paper, Sasquatch Sunset makes a lot of sense. One can also imagine actors being enticed by the idea of acting without relying on the usual cues of human behaviour, plus the added intensity of having to work with prosthetics and a cumbersome bodysuit, finding ways to make the process comfortable – like using cornstarch and baby powder to deal with the sweat.

At the start of the film, it’s almost like a nature documentary. Sasquatches Are Us could have been an alternative title. There are lovely visuals of forests and woodland creatures that inhabit those spaces. Sunlight dapples through the trees, as you follow the quartet through four seasons. The Zellners have been inspired by sasquatch lore – strange knocking sounds, giant piles of tree branches – to provide some sequences. Sex is the other set of motivation. (At least in Zellner’s world view, sasquatch sex is just like human sex: with little care or regard for the female. Although Keogh’s character is able to articulate her rage far more eloquently than most women can.) Sasquatch versus animal kingdom is another theme.

The background score plays into that nature documentary ambience, swelling at the golden hour and when the landscape is majestic. The sort of music that makes you think maybe there is something to this whole forest bathing thing.

As someone who was not even remotely interested in the idea of sasquatches growing up, this film didn’t scratch any particular itch for me. Slow films or even avant-garde performances can be riveting. There’s a sense of journey, and it can even be moving. Sasquatch Sunset did not provide any revelations, however, personal or otherwise. It was funny in fleeting moments.

Can I appreciate the endeavour? Absolutely. The actors embraced a bizarre proposition and committed to it. I hope it taught them something about themselves, if not necessarily the craft. Maybe this film will inspire other filmmakers to take chances and experiment with their own far-fetched ideas. As for audiences, it might move you. Or it might be a palate cleanser in between whatever other genre floats your boat.

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