Film Reviews

For Better and for Worse, SASQUATCH SUNSET Belongs in a Museum


In Portland, Maine, sitting next to a now-vacated distillery off a small peninsula that juts out into the Fore River, you can find the International Cryptozoology Museum. I’m obsessed with the ICM for a few reasons. When you go on their website, or grab a brochure in the lobby, it will claim that its “primary mission” is to “educate, inform, and share cryptozoological evidence, artifacts, replicas, and popular cultural items with the general public, media, students, scholars, and cryptozoologists from around the world.” Some of that mission is very true; a majority of the museum is dedicated to media depictions of various creatures, cheaply ranging from relevant Pokemon cards to stills of HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS. But to what degree there is any kind of genuine evidence or artifacts, well, I suppose that’s up to you, dear reader. 

The thing about the International Cryptozoology Museum, though, is that there are always people there. I’m always shocked at how many tourists (?) or locals (??) are there checking out the lifesize swamp thing, or a recreation of the Kennewick Man skull, or the gift shop that features copies of the underrated 1978 horror mockumentary THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK. It is not a big museum, and it is not a very big city. You could do anything you want in Portland, a town with incredible places to eat, drink, hike, and explore. And yet, you’re in a relatively tucked away museum that is ultimately dedicated to making pop cultural connections to things like the Jersey Devil or the Yeti.

Soon, you will (I’m sure) be able to see a small plaque dedicated to SASQUATCH SUNSET. David and Nathan Zellner’s latest stars (we’re told) Riley Keough and Jesse Eisenberg as sasquatches living out a year in the wilderness of Northern California. Joined by Christophe Zajac-Denek and Nathan, the four sasquatches eat, fuck, and fart their way through nature, occasionally intersecting with the modern industrialized world (albeit from afar). And… that’s it! The Zellners’ film is a comedy that attempts to fuse vaudevillian slapstick with beautiful nature footage. There are no words exchanged throughout the movie’s hour-and-a-half runtime—only grunts and howls—and each actor is hidden under impressive practical makeup, their protruding foreheads and sunken eyes keenly studied for a film that looks to intimately showcase a traditionally elusive creature. 

Sasquatch Sunset still

SASQUATCH SUNSET is meant to be funny; each segment susses out the visual comedy of primitive communication, be it high on mushrooms or understanding manmade wonders or, sure, fucking each other. Watching the female sasquatch and her son become hypnotized by a camper’s boombox, or seeing the group shit on the paved road are obvious sight gags. But they’re obvious sight gags in the same way, say, Jack Link’s Messin’ With Sasquatch commercials are sight gags—almost exactly. If they’d let them speak English, I’m sure we’d be watching a version of the caveman Geico ads. 

A movie that was attempting to be more primitive (sorry) would get away with all of this, but you can tell the Zellners are trying desperately to find a human connection within all of it. Each sequence plays out with an unearned majesty, as though a David Attenborough voiceover should be accompanying striking vistas and burgeoning wildlife. The Octopus Project’s inspired score strikes a tone of wonder and awe, as though the brutality of nature explored in the film should mean something. Frankly it’s material much dumber filmmakers would find the balance in—give the prompt “Sasquatch Slapstick Nature Documentary” to, say, The Lonely Island boys, and they’d at least go for broke rather than creating an excuse to explore the Meisner method while banging trees with sticks in monkey suits. 

Ultimately I walk away asking similar questions about SASQUATCH SUNSET as I do the International Cryptozoology Museum: Who is this for? Is it entertaining? Is it something to watch simply to tell people you’ve seen it? To what degree is there a “science” to anything on screen? To that end, is that even the point? Where the two things differ—beyond one taking a full 90 minutes of my time and the other having a brewery next door I can escape to in half the time—is that while SASQUATCH SUNSET is actively and exhaustingly trying to be a piece of art, the ICM doesn’t give a fuck about art despite somehow being a shrine to it, and that kinda rules.

CJ Simonson
CJ Simonson is Merry-Go-Round's Editor-in-Chief and representative for all things Arizona. The only thing he knows for certain is that "I Can Feel The Fire" by Ronnie Wood is the greatest closing credits song never used in a Wes Anderson movie. Get on that, Wes.

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