Bigfoot, or the Sasquatch as it is also known, is one of the most salient and enduring myths anywhere in North America. A legend passed down generations, the contemporary obsession with the myth can be traced to the Patterson-Gimlin footage from 1967. Hoax or not, it captured public imagination like never before, and thousands of people claim to have encountered such creatures in the middle of the remotest woodlands. Sasquatch follows investigative journalist David Holthouse as he tries to get to the truth of one especially nasty story from the autumn of 1993. According to one testimony, three men working on a cannabis farm in Northern California were torn limb from limb by a bigfoot. This vague and potentially mis-remembered account acts as a starting point for an investigation that dives headfirst into conspiracy and rumour, fuelled by the nervous anticipation of actually getting to see a monster in the flesh.
Holthouse, who has previously gone undercover with drug cartels and neo-Nazis, states that this is the craziest story that he has ever pursued. Nonetheless, one of the reasons Sasquatch proves to be a compelling true crime experience is because of the sincerity with which Holthouse approaches the subject, equipped with obvious journalistic rigour and dedication to the facts. Acting as both the interviewer and the show’s protagonist, his personal investment in the story becomes ever more evident as each episode ticks by. Holthouse doesn’t simply let you assume that he is qualified for such an investigation, but instead repeatedly manages to prove it.
‘Truth’ and ‘what makes a monster’ are the two biggest focal points in Sasquatch. You see first-hand how the alleged experiences, as unbelievable as they sound, leave a severe emotional and psychological impact on those concerned. Even among bigfoot’s believers, there is disagreement and contradiction regarding the facts – one interviewee has to deny that he believes a bigfoot can teleport. But this arguably nonsensical train of thought is gradually replaced by very real analyses of the war on drugs, state violence, and a worryingly long Missing Persons list. The Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, cannabis farmers armed with AR-15s, and professional hitmen all feature. Sasquatch convincingly situates bigfoot into a wider social and political context of misinformation, violence, and mystery. One that has you genuinely believing that something is really out there.
This sense of unease is brought to the fore in the simplest ways, be it tracking shots of looming canopies or unnervingly silent looks at an overgrown forest floor. The animated cut-aways, while just occasionally at odds with the tone, nonetheless do their part to give the documentary an almost horror feel. Luminous eyes shine brightly amidst the darkness, and plants are dripping in scarlet red blood. Part of the reason you feel on edge is that, be it through the stories or the aesthetics, Sasquatch never lets you feel at ease with where Holthouse is taking you. In doing so, you directly participate in the myth – bigfoot is all about not feeling welcome in a given place, or feeling like you don’t belong.
Despite the depth of detail on offer, some aspects feel too lightly addressed. The fate of the Native Americans who lived in the region previously is touched upon but seemingly doesn’t fit into this documentary as anything more than a worthy anecdote. This is despite the bigfoot story being firmly rooted in Native American culture. Holthouse’s primary remit is far more contemporary in nature, but regardless the lack of attention spent on the indigenous origins and experiences of the myth itself unavoidably feels like an oversight.
When the documentary first turns its attention away from bigfoot it can start to feel lacking in direction. Additionally, it can’t quite match Tiger King punch for punch when it comes to mixing the sensational with the factual, nor does it quite leave you in the same bewildered state of disbelief. But it comes close, and even when it apparently digresses, Sasquatch never loses your attention. When it comes to intoxicating true crime documentaries, this is one of the most unique entries you are ever likely to find.
“Sounds to me like you’re tracking down an outlandish story,” Holthouse is told at one point. That he is. But exactly what the story is, and what kind of monster is under the microscope, is ever-changing. What doesn’t change is the show’s obvious dedication to unearthing human capacity for monstrosity, be it imagined or practiced.
Greed, violence, and consumption are all factors in making monsters of men. This sobering truth, intertwined with a thorough and compelling investigation of one of the greatest myths on the planet, ensures that Sasquatch emerges as a remarkably powerful, atmospheric, and resonant documentary.
Sasquatch is available to stream on Hulu from 20 April.
Words by James Hanton
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Image: © Hulu