Shaun Munro reviews the SXSW premiere of Hulu’s documentary series Sasquatch…
This Duplass brothers-produced true crime series from documentarian Joshua Rofé (Lorena) attempts to bring truthful resolution to an eerie murder-mystery which has hounded a man for almost three decades. And so while Sasquatch – a three-part docu-series premiering on Hulu on April 20th – can never live up to the dishy absurdity of its title, it nevertheless leads audiences along a compellingly lurid breadcrumb trail.
Our guide through this twisted and often surprising story is David Holthouse, an affable, Christian Slater-esque investigative journalist who opens by recounting a story of his time at a Northern Californian pot farm in 1993. One night, two co-workers frantically explained to him that three men on a nearby farm were torn to shreds by none other than Bigfoot itself.
Today, David pores over his own memories and attempts to contact those who lived and worked in the area in the hope of getting to the bottom of that night’s horrifying events, and perhaps even literally finding out where the bodies are buried.
No matter the viewer’s own rational detachment from the mythical status of the titular creature, Sasquatch nevertheless touts a sublimely creepy setup. One way or another, something extremely unsettling went down on Spy Rock, a shady, mysterious unincorporated community in California’s Mendocino County, home to the state’s most fearsome weed barons.
If you’re fearful from the title alone that Rofé will spend most of the doc’s two-and-a-half hours indulging crackpot hooey, worry not. Though there are certainly sporadic interviews with Bigfoot “truthers” – including an academic who believes as many as 300 might be living in the Idaho woods – much like the director’s prior series, the angle here is one of myth demystification, albeit nestled within an unmistakably wacky context.
It’s not a spoiler at all to say that that the Sasquatch speculation is quickly shown to be a sure dead-end – “grabbing at smoke,” as Holthouse himself remarks – yet serves as the primer for an entertaining and informative deep dive investigation into Spy Rock’s territorial, possibly murderous cannabis growers.
The series’ eye-catching title and heightened framing lure the audience in for a more sprawling story about the elusiveness of truth and memory, as David trawls back over his own past, speaks to those who may know what happened that night – many of whom have their appearances and voices disguised – and sees his very safety threatened as he probes Spy Rock’s dangerous criminal underbelly.
Given that Holthouse can only be said to solve the central enigma with a dubious degree of concreteness – the most obvious answer likely being the right one – it’s fair to say that the journey is infinitely more rewarding than the destination. But the murder-mystery is so thoroughly wrapped up in social issues still prevalent in America today – racism, unchecked capitalism, the ineffectual War on Drugs – that it manages to find chilling truth in myriad other ways.
Rofé clearly relishes unfurling a number of gamy twists to keep viewers strung along until the end, aided considerably by the infectious likeability of Holthouse, a man with his own traumatic past and whose self-endangering quest for closure is perhaps born out of a certain self-destructiveness. Even so, he’s an easy-to-root-for figure and an appealing guide through this grim travelogue of greed and death.
If its earlier passages seem to tap-dance on the fringes of absurdity, Sasquatch soon evolves into a more complex and intriguing crime doc, leaving lingering doubt in its wake for both Holthouse and the audience while riffing on many concerns still facing contemporary America. If you’re coming to the doc hoping for a straight-faced Bigfoot expose, though, you’re going to be left wanting.
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more TV and film rambling.