Steve Newburn, Christophe Zajac-Denek, Riley Keough, Jesse Eisenberg, David Zellner, Yvonne Lambert, Nathan Zellner, Josh Lambert and Toto Miranda (George Pimentel/Shutterstock for Sundance Film Festival)
By Veronika Lee Claghorn
It must have been the logline heard ’round the world. Well… at least around the Sundance Film Festival world.
“A year in the life of a singular family,” reads the logline to the Zellner Brothers’ (David and Nathan) Sasquatch Sunset, the duo’s fifth feature to screen at Sundance. Apparently that was enough to entice the crowds on night two of the 40th edition festival to come to the Eccles Theatre. Or maybe it’s the potential of spotting cast members Jesse Eisenberg and Riley Keough in full Bigfoot regalia.
The Colorado native Zellners claim they have been fascinated by Sasquatch lore since they were children, because the creatures seem to naturally blend the “gray area” between humans and animals. They reference to their sold-out filmgoers that just like us, they, too, have been fascinated by that infamous grainy video of “Bigfoot” recorded as it lurks through the forest.
By the looks of the tall redwoods, fern-deep flora, and wide-eyed and bushy-tailed skunks, possums, badgers, and others, we’re gestured toward believing, as the film begins, we’re in the Pacific Northwest. If the height of the redwood trees are to be believed, we must accept that the creatures portrayed by Eisenberg, Keough, Christophe Zajac-Denek (Twin Peaks), and Nathan Zellner weren’t born yesterday and have evolved to the necessities of a foggy climate in what may (or may not be) a modern-day California. The cryptid critters seemingly count the rings on the cleanly hacked stumps of cedar trees, suggesting to the viewer we’re not necessarily in a galaxy long, long ago.
Creature designer and Christopher Nolan veteran Steve Newburn (The Dark Knight Rises, Inception, The Watchmen) brings the Harry and the Hendersons-like creatures to life with shaggy and fleshy prosthetics, while Ethan Feldblau (Piranha 3D) lends VFX muscle to the large-footed creature family. The Zellners team up with Hereditary’s Ari Aster as a producer (amongst others). Not only did Keough (Daisy Jones & The Six) and Eisenberg (The Social Network) both portray the post-Paleozoic bipedal personas, they produced the film about them, as well.
It is only by the mammary glands we can distinguish Keough’s character, while the other male sasquatches stand out by their supraorbital brows — one particularly nasty beastie stands out as inherently evil, as he most resembles the werewolf incarnation of the vampire in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. A slew of real-life four-legged and winged critters rounds out the cast, such as possums, raccoons, and ravens, bringing a much-needed warmth and relatability to the plot in the most unexpected of ways. “Don’t worry,” advises David before the screening, “No animals were harmed and real crypto-psychologists and anthropologists were consulted for this project.”
So what exactly would inspire the cast to lumber around cold forests dressed in 40-pound prosthetic suits? “We complained the whole time!” laughs Keough. “But the script was so beautiful…sometimes when I was watching the film with all of you, I was hoping you could see the lines David wrote because they were so absolutely beautiful. He’s such a great writer.” Eisenberg says he has always been a fan of the dynamic directing duo and that he would have interned for them to work alongside them.
If ever there were an exercise in context clues or “reading a film,” Sasquatch Sunset would be the ultimate lesson. It is a tale full of sound and fury told through no dialogue, only the grunting of very communicative critters. Yet it doesn’t need Richard Attenborough’s voice to make us laugh at or cry for these creatures.
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