sat 20/07/2024

Susquatch Sunset review - nature red in tooth and claw (albeit prosthetic) | reviews, news & interviews

Susquatch Sunset review - nature red in tooth and claw (albeit prosthetic)

Susquatch Sunset review - nature red in tooth and claw (albeit prosthetic)

Ambling out of the primordial swamp with no clear sense of direction

If you go down to the woods today. Jesse Eisenberg and Christophe Zajac-Dene act surprised

There’s a category of movies that are best seen having read nothing about them. Susquatch Sunset falls into that blood group as its main pleasure comes from working out quite what's going on. Free of any dialogue, it functions as an oddball parody of a nature documentary as it follows an elusive family of mysterious bipeds over the changing seasons.

We first spot four shaggy-haired, naked figures outlined on the horizon as dawn breaks in the deep-forested landscape of North America. Settling into a woodland glade, it becomes clear we are looking at two adult males, a female and a youth. Swamped under costumes and prosthetics are Jesse Eisenberg and Riley Keough alongside Nathan Zeller (who also co-directs, pictured below) and stuntman Christophe Zajac-Dene (best known as Ike, the murderous little person in the 2017 tv series Twin Peaks). The prosthetics aren't as subtle as they were in the far superior Swedish film, Border, but they are good enough to make the film's stars unrecognisable.Susquatch Sunset was filmed in the redwood forests of Humboldt County, where settlers in the 1880s first documented the indigenous people's oral histories of mysterious, giant bipeds. These mythical creatures were also depicted in centuries old cave art. Folk tales of golems, trolls, wildmen of the woods and yetis exist all over the world, tapping into our hopes that primordial beings have somehow mysteriously survived and are out there, hiding from us modern humans. The appeal is strong; according to one poll 26% of Canadians believe that susquatches are real. Such folklore certainly helps the tourist trade as travellers search the woods. 

Susquatch Sunset looks like a film that would have been a lot of fun for the cast to perform, once the discomfort of long sessions in costume and make up wore off. It’s certainly engaging to watch the actors use body language and what facial movement their prosthetics allow, to convey some quite complex interactions. As well as the furry cast and stunning scenery, we encounter skunks, deer and mountain cats.There’s some excellent wildlife camera work by Michael Gioulakis that wouldn’t shame the BBC Natural History Unit. On the visual front, it’s a pleasure to see a film that uses old-school prosthetics instead of CGI, although the animatronic infant is an embarrassing failure in the credibility stakes. We are in uncanny nappy valley here. Has any special effects team ever created a realistic baby, animal or human? 

Family tensions around hierarchy meld with a melancholy cloud that hangs over the little group's survival. We're left wondering for the first half of the film whether we are looking at the distant past or some post apocalyptic future. It's all a little too reminiscent of the original Planet of the Apes. External dangers and internal conflicts drive the story towards a poignant ending that includes a well sign-posted ecological moral. But the film is tonally uncertain with too much reliance on bodily fluids and excreta for laughs.

What Susquatch Sunset also doesn't do well is gauge its audience – the onscreen violence and sexual acts would distress or puzzle a child and there’s not really enough narrative development for an adult. It's trying to be both an art film with an eco message and an old-school creature feature .Ultimately one suspects that the Zellner Brothers had fun directing the film as an exercise in style, but its poor showing at the US box office isn't a huge surprise.

  • More film reviews on theartsdesk 
Too much reliance on bodily fluids and excreta for laughs


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

Explore topics

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters