‘Sasquatch Sunset’ review: Gross-out comedy goes art house 

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By aroundworld.news

Watching Sasquatch Sunset is an intoxicating experience, in part because it is so strange — while disgusting and heartfelt — that it feels at times more like a hallucination than a film that could actually exist. If nothing else, it’s the sweetest movie ever made that features shit-flinging. 

Buzzed about out of its Sundance premiere, Sasquatch Sunset centers on a family of nomadic cryptids, who hunt, gather, sleep, hoot, and fight amid a towering wilderness. In some respects, the film’s co-directors, brothers David and Nathan Zellner, conceptualized Sasquatch Sunset like a nature documentary, with wide angles taking in the vast forests around the eponymous critters. Quiet close-ups invite human audiences to seek meaning in the furrowed brow of the bigfoot family, who communicate in growls, grunts, and howls. Yet there is no voiceover narrator to add context, or ease us in understanding the weird ways of these beasts. And David Attenborough would blush at the animalistic nature the Zellners portray, which includes spraying urine, flinging feces, onscreen mating, full-frontal Sasquatch genitals, and a most ingenious use for afterbirth. (Nope. Not that one.)

There’s certainly a self-aware humor to these boldly gross-out moments. But the Zellners have something more serious stirring at the film’s core. 

Sasquatch Sunset is shouldered by Riley Keough. 

Riley Keough stars as a bigfoot in “Sasquatch Sunset.”
Credit: Bleeker Street

Between 2014’s whimsical drama Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter and the 2018 offbeat Western dramedy Damsel, the Zellner Brothers have built a reputation for making films that shift radically yet poetically in tone. Their narratives are bizarre, bittersweet, and beautiful. With Sasquatch Sunset, they continue on this path, colliding a sincere family drama with scatological humor and star power flocked in fur. 

Riley Keough, the American actress who’s played free-spirited beauties in Logan Lucky, Under the Silver Lake, Zola, and Daisy and the Six, is truly unrecognizable here, covered head to toe in prosthetics and fur transforming her into a mother Sasquatch. Joining her — and likewise mythically made over — are co-director Nathan Zellner, who plays an aggressive alpha male; Jesse Eisenberg, as a sensitive beta male; and Christophe Zajac-Denek as a Sasquatch cub. 

At first, it can be a challenge to make out who is who, as the family resemblance is strong in hair color and down-turned expression. But before long, the human eyes peering beneath the pronounced prosthetic brows become distinctive enough. Zellner defines his brute with a hulking physicality and surly glare. Zajac-Denek bounces about with a guileless lightness, a babe in the woods. Eisenberg putters about the forest so gently, it’s easy to imagine his Sasquatch fitting in amid a famer’s market. Actually, at times, his performance feels so humanly neurotic that it can break the suspension of disbelief, turning the carefully rendered full-body make-up into a mascot costume being capered in. But Keough, who also produced the film, becomes its emotional center. When she stomps her big, funky foot, you can feel the literal and metaphorical weight of it.

As unpredictable turns of fate hit her family, this Sasquatch responds with rage, agony, panic, and, yes, occasionally poop flinging. And while the male Sasquatches are made for visual punchlines involving their macho hubris, floppy phalluses, or ineptitude to survive on their own, Keough’s mother carries the weight of carrying on — and carrying a pregnancy over the course of a year-long journey. It is her mournful eyes that scream in exhaustion as she breastfeeds, scares off would-be predators, or stares out into the wilderness that communicates most powerfully what Sasquatch Sunset is all about. 

Deforestation is the silent villain of Sasquatch Sunset. 

Three Sasquatches stand on a hillside.

Three Sasquatches stand on a hillside.
Credit: Bleeker Street

Early on, it’s clear this clan of cryptids is on a quest to find more of their kind. They have a ritual of cries that call out to the miles of mountain and woods around them, begging for a reply. As they journey, seeking other Sasquatch, signs of human harm on their land pop up: A spray-painted X on a soon-to-be felled tree here; a camping tent stuffed with snacks there. With each, an unspoken threat is made, one that the audience — but not the unsuspecting Sasquatch — understands. And so a tension grows, even as we might chuckle over the youngest critter giddily gobbling up candy buttons with abandon. Humans can mean nothing good for these untamed creatures. 

The Zellners weave this advocacy for environmentalism amid goofy gags about sex, bodily functions, and violence. Yet their meaning is as impossible to ignore as the world-weary expression on the female Sasquatch’s face as she faces another day.

In this blend of the strange and sentimental, the ardent and the asinine, Sasquatch Sunset feels radical and ridiculous. If you squint you can easily imagine a remake with goofier grunting and perhaps the likes of Will Ferrell or Kevin Hart in suits that don’t disguise their famous features. The restraint the Zellners show is part of what makes Sasquatch Sunset so extraordinary. It is unabashedly a gross-out comedy, urging audiences to laugh over the goopy muck of sex, death, and childbirth. Yet just underneath this sticky surface, there’s an ardent sadness, warning of the ravages mankind brings with our conquering and carelessness. Which is not to say some vignettes don’t fall a bit flat. Even at an hour and 29 minutes, the film can feel mundane and meandering at times. 

Overall, however, Sasquatch Sunset is a daringly ambitious and fascinatingly audacious family drama that’s sure to cause giggles, gasps, and gagging.

Sasquatch Sunset opens in select theaters April 12, expanding nationwide on April 19. 

UPDATE: Apr. 11, 2024, 2:45 p.m. EDT “Sasquatch Sunset” was originally reviewed out of SXSW 2024 and has been updated to reflect theatrical options.

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