SXSW 2021: Sasquatch

Many a documentary has commented on the mythology of the Sasquatch. There’s a whole cottage industry of them. A confusing and varied selection of — not B movies — but B documentaries. A fiction of the imagination. Where everyone involved Wants to Believe. If those are a dime a dozen, it’s peculiar there are relatively few that try anything else. There’s a proven market there, so there ought to be more usable experiments in that space. Hulu’s Sasquatch is one such entry, that goes a bit further than the typified will-they-or-won’t-they find any evidence of the Sasquatch.

Having seen many of them, they always leave the viewer with a deep emptiness. Such fascinating and regionally specific mythology requires so much more of its creators than vapid exploitation of a hungry market. Thus enters Joshua Rofé’s documentary, produced by the Duplass Brothers (who have been producing a string of clever made-for-streaming docs).

Circa 1993, journalist David Houlthouse was visiting a pot farm in the Redwoods of Northern California. Holed up in a cabin with friends, some unexpected visitors arrived. They were aghast. They had witnessed something truly awful. They found the bodies of three Mexican workers torn to bits at a neighboring pot farm. The Bigfoot did it, they said.

Naturally, this created quite a stir in Houlthouse’s imagination. He has spent his career profiling real life monsters. Embedding himself with both sides of gangs amidst territory wars. Infiltrating Nazi groups and collecting intel for reporting. The idea of investigating this mystery then, would seem naturally appealing to him. When he began following a few leads and the police told him it was too dangerous and not to poke around, it was like a missive that it had to be done.

In Hulu’s three part series, what begins as a profile of Sasquatch lore gives way to a mysterious crime drama. It’s certainly in vogue, for even dramas not directly linked to gruesome crimes, to now be presented as crime dramas. We can thank the internet for its unending love of exploring the loose ends of these things. Every show is a challenge to the Internet Sleuth within all of us.

What’s different about Sasquatch is that it imparts new value onto the story. It’s a realist’s hunt, not for the existence of the Bigfoot, but the very source of the legend. It tells a darker history of an area. Why it might behoove someone to create a frightening image as bold as a ferocious and hairy creature. That, beneath the function of this mythology, may lurk some darker human motivation. There may or may not be any outsized yetis in the Redwoods, but there is assuredly evil.

The first episode takes us on a tour of this very Pacific Northwestern kind of legend. It gives a history of the Bigfoot as it has been defined in the territory. From the belligerent violence of Gold Rush settlers to the greedy exploitation of drug farmers, it sets the context. Then the next two episodes twist the story around a history of crime at the nearby pot farms, until they arrive at some fundamental truths.

The most we can hope for in a documentary of this type are answers. Obviously, they generally end without proof of anything like the existence of the Bigfoot. At best, the hunt is worth the voyage. Here, the mythology is used, instead, to construct a riveting crime story with peculiar characters and a wild history. Many years after someone ran into his cabin shouting about Sasquatch and murder, the reporter has uncovered the dark secrets of the mountains.


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