The costumes and makeup are going to get you first (they’re fantastic), but don’t discount the sneaky emotional power that lurks under enough hair and skin and dirt and little, skinny pee-pees (sorry, they cannot not be mentioned here, as prevalent as they are in the film) to make even the most eagle-eyed of audiences not quite realize they’re looking at Jesse Eisenberg or Riley Keough. In David and Nathan Zellner’s long-gestating, oft-teased, and mildly secretive “Sasquatch Sunset,” the four-strong family unit at the story’s heart might not look like you and me, but they sure feel human.

That’s not to say they’re not taking by their more animalistic tendencies, as Eisenberg, Keough, Nathan Zellner, and Christophe Zajac-Denek spend much of the film’s running time — which clocks in at a slim 89 minutes, but it can feel much longer during slower stretches, and covers a full year in their lives — farting, fucking, eating, snorting, sniffing, and even communicating with their fellow furry denizens in an unknown forest. (Fur aside, one of the film’s best gags comes care of a very snappy interaction with a pissed-off turtle, a bit of physical comedy that demonstrates the directing duo’s panache for finding comedy in seemingly simple bits.)

A lot can happen over the course of a year, and that holds true even for our Sasquatch family. While the basic concept of the film might lend itself to the nature documentary treatment, the Zellners (with a script credited to David Zellner) eschew that easy out. Instead, we’re giving the minimum of information at the outset, including quickie title cards that tell us the season (we start, of course, with spring) and little else. We’re left to put the rest of the pieces together, from how these beasts are related (who is rutting who, for instance, and who is someone’s parent, etc.) to how their daily lives unfold.

It’s easy to imagine Jane Goodall embedding herself with this motley crew and watching what unfolds. At first? Not a lot. And then? Everything. For audiences willing to vibe with a film that feature big stars (unrecognizable), a slowly unfolding plot (with much to discover in its quieter moments), and a truly devastating sequence we will not spoil here, “Sasquatch Sunset” offers many rewards. Looking for something scarier? At one point, they do trash campsite, though it’s a funny and sad sequence that might leave horror aficionados rolling their eyes. But those film fans have their Bigfoot movies already, this one is for the people looking for a kitchen sink drama that takes place in the middle of the forest.

The sense that our Sasquatchs’ time on this Earth, even their very space on this planet, is fast running out, grows increasingly frantic through the film, ratcheting way up as it goes along. The Sasquatches have a number of rituals and traditions they practice throughout “Sasquatch Sunset,” though none is more touching than their frequent breaks to bang, quite methodically, on massive tree trunks with attendant sitcks. It’s never quite clear why they do this, but said banging always ends with the Bigfoot family pausing, looking, and listening. They never hear anyone — any Sasquatch — bang back. Had we observed them during another year, it seems, the result might have been very different.

As initially eye-popping as those costumes might be, as jarring as those teensy wee-wees certainly are, and as seemingly hung up on all manner of bodily functions as it all is, the Zellners and their clearly very invested and game (haha) cast have bigger ideas on their minds. There’s a tenderness here, not just between the Sasquatches (and even then, not always just tenderness!) but for nature itself. We may feel connected to this family, but this family is connected to the Earth and the world around in them in a way that humans long ago left behind. That’s our loss, and as the Zellners build to an end that will surely leave some audience members miffed, we soon begin to see the truth: it’s also a loss for the Sasquatch.

Grade: B

“Sasquatch Sunset” premiered at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Bleecker Street will release it in theaters on Friday, April 12.

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