Film

Why Sasquatch Sunset is so much more than just a gross-out comedy in Chewbacca drag

Though it initially seems like a gross-out comedy, Sasquatch Sunset interrogates the effect we are having on our planet

Jesse Eisenberg and Christophe Zajac-Denek in Sasquatch Sunset

Super furry animals: Jesse Eisenberg and Christophe Zajac-Denek in Sasquatch Sunset

Check your pagan calendar because there must be some sort of solstice looming for movies about the great outdoors. Whether by accident or design, this week we are getting a cluster of independent films exploring the majesty and potential lethality of untamed nature (even if the big Hollywood offering – Pixar’s Inside Out 2 – is more concerned with a teen girl’s interior landscape).

In the agrarian thriller Arcadian, Nicolas Cage and his two young sons seem to be embracing the simple life on such a nice little steading you half expect Worzel Gummidge to amble into frame. But at night they must fortify their farmhouse against violent, unseen terrors desperate to claw their way inside.

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The similarly unsettling low-budget horror The Moor dredges up disturbing memories on a bleak Yorkshire heath that has a notorious history of swallowing children whole. (A good tagline might be: “Every ramble is a gamble.”) On a rather more optimistic note, the new documentary Wilding adapts Isabella Tree’s 2018 bestseller about how she revitalised her kaput West Sussex estate by abandoning farming orthodoxy, ditching pesticides and letting livestock roam free.

Yet somehow the weirdest of this movie mulch bunch is not the one with Cage doing a post-cataclysm Clarkson’s Farm. Instead that honour falls to Sasquatch Sunset, a gorgeous-looking, elegiac wildlife film set deep in the US wilderness, a vast prelapsarian idyll of lush, towering forests.

It follows a year in the life of nomadic creatures rarely captured on celluloid, the camera silently observing as a family group of cryptids adapt to the changing seasons: foraging, frolicking and occasionally fornicating. Watching as these hairy humanoids instinctively care for each other – grooming each other’s coats, or gathering material for a communal nocturnal shelter – you begin to feel some cross-species kinship, akin to those glances of “meaning and mutual understanding” David Attenborough identified when in close proximity to the mountain gorillas of Rwanda.

It makes you wonder: why has no-one documented the life of the noble sasquatch before? And the answer, of course, is that they do not exist beyond hoary old legends of Bigfoot or the fun 1980s family flick Harry and the Hendersons. The impressive trick that Sasquatch Sunset pulls – via immersive cinematography, committed physical performances and a woozy post-rock score – is to get you emotionally invested in this furry gang of four snorting and grunting at each other, even though on some level you are aware that you are just watching Jesse Eisenberg from Zombieland mooching about in a gorilla suit.

Credit is due to bankable stars Eisenberg and Riley Keogh (from Mad Max: Fury Road and Prime Video’s vintage rock’n’roll drama Daisy Jones and the Six) for signing up for such prosthetic-heavy roles where they are totally unrecognisable as a dim but inquisitive beta male and put-upon female respectively. The family unit is rounded out by co-director Nathan Zellner as a puffed-up, belligerent alpha male from whom we quickly learn the sasquatch sign language for sex, and Christophe Zajac-Denek as the baby of the bunch looking to find their place in the pecking order.

The film has been billed as a comedy, and there are certainly moments of silent movie-style clowning and straight-up slapstick. It also does such an effective job of mimicking the sedate, rather reverential shooting style of nature docs that when bodily functions abruptly intrude – sometimes to a hilariously scatological degree – it is truly shocking, yet also in keeping with the idea that this is an observational film interested in all aspects of sasquatch behaviour. 

But just when you have it pegged as a gross-out comedy in Chewbacca drag, it captures moments of surprisingly deep emotion.

As the seasons unfold, and the family group face challenges to their cohesion and even survival, it becomes clear that even though Sasquatch Sunset does not feature any humans, it wants to interrogate the effect we are having on our planet, casually and cruelly encroaching on even the most remote landscapes. But despite the ways our hairy heroes look out for each other, this is not a film particularly interested in hand-holding. 

Even after embedding with these wild bigfoots for a tumultuous year, you are left to draw your own conclusions about what this enjoyably eccentric but indulgent fable all means. Perhaps when it comes out on Blu-ray they should consider adding an Attenborough commentary track.

Sasquatch Sunset is in selected cinemas from 10 June. Graeme Virtue is a film and TV critic

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