Sasquatch Sunset: ‘We’ve talked to a lot of Bigfoot experts ... it’s fascinating how it feeds the mythology’

In Zellner brothers’ Bigfoot film, Riley Keough and Jesse Eisenberg lead cast that grunts, screams, masturbates and defecates

In 1967, on a visit to the banks of Bluff Creek in northern California, the amateur nature film-makers Bob Gimlin and Roger Patterson captured an image that continues to fascinate cryptozoologists – and the pair’s many detractors. Almost six decades later, one frame of the Patterson-Gimlin film – number 352 – remains the most commonly used visual reference for the legendary Bigfoot, or sasquatch. Patterson, who died of cancer in 1972, “maintained right to the end that the creature on the film was real”; Gimlin, similarly, insists on the footage’s veracity. And the Gimlin-Patterson film has never been “officially” debunked.

“We’ve talked to a lot of Bigfoot experts,” says Nathan Zellner, the star and cowriter of Sasquatch Sunset, one of the most-talked-about movies of 2024. “There’s a community online, and they get together regularly for conventions. What’s fascinating is that this is one of the most-watched film strips ever. That one frame of the Bigfoot looking over its shoulder has fuelled everybody’s imagination for so long. That’s the bumper-sticker image. But even with the Bigfoot community, at the conventions, there are sceptics. There’s no consensus on the footage. But it’s fascinating how it feeds the mythology.”

Nathan and his brother, David, the film-making duo behind Damsel, a 2018 western starring Robert Pattinson, first encountered the Patterson-Gimlin film as kids watching Leonard Nimoy’s paranormal TV series, In Search Of ... It left an impression that continues to inform their creative practice: their Bigfoot-themed short, Sasquatch Birth Journal No 2, premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2011. The expanded feature, Sasquatch Sunset, premiered at the same Utah bash last January.

The United States “is very young, and that’s why our mythology is limited”,\ says David Zellner. “I think Bigfoot is interesting in the way it represents our connection to the natural world. That may be what started the stories to begin with. As human civilisation developed in cities, our stories expressed an increasing need for a connection to nature. The more civilised we become the more we like to separate ourselves from the rest of the animal world. I love how Bigfoot represents the grey area between human and animal behaviour.”


Sasquatch Sunset imagines the daily routines and rituals of the fabled woodland ape. The wordless and scatological script chronicles a troop of Bigfoots over one fateful year. Riley Keough and Jesse Eisenberg, unrecognisable under layers of prosthetics, lead a cast that grunts, screams, masturbates, forages, performs ritualised tree-tapping and defecates for 88 minutes. Remarkably, the Zellners craft an affecting story from these bestial behaviours that improbably culminates in a family tragedy and wild campsite vandalism.

“It was an intuitive process,” says David. “We went through many drafts. But this was a fun script to write overall. We always knew that we wanted to have some emotional resonance to it. If it was just jokes it would have run thin really quickly for us. We move from looking at them as a group to looking at them as individuals. One of the interesting things about the way we separate ourselves from the rest of the animal world is that basically every other animal is devoid of shame. That opened up the full spectrum of animal and human behaviour and where they overlap. From the more nuanced, poignant stuff to the scatological, everything is normalised. Some of the absurdity comes from that. What they’re feeling or the way their bodies are functioning is very matter-of-fact.”

The Zellners were almost too embarrassed to send Eisenberg and Keough the screenplay. Nonetheless, three pages of the script was enough to convince the Social Network star. Keough, the granddaughter of Elvis and Priscilla Presley and the star of Daisy Jones & the Six, immediately fell in love with the character designs. Emoting through those designs took some practice, says Nathan, who plays the Bigfoot alpha male.

“A lot of the performance came from watching YouTube videos or going to the zoo,” he says. “We are big fans of animal and nature docs. It was important that we naturalise these mythical creatures so that we’re on their side as an audience and seeing things from their point of view. We had a rehearsal boot camp for the four actors. We needed to all be acting and moving in the same way. When we introduced animals into the equation – because we shot it on location – it was great. Because with all prosthetics and fur, the animals were very nonplussed about us being there. The make-up was realistic enough that the animals didn’t care.”

Sasquatch Sunset predictably divided audiences at Sundance and Berlin. Variety magazine reported walkouts “well before the credits began to roll”. But the film also has many champions. “Surrender to its shaggy rhythms and you’ll find this sometimes tiresome portrait of a family of mythical beasts is not without intelligence and a strangely mesmeric intent,” Jeannette Catsoulis writes in the New York Times; “It’s a special movie that can make you laugh out loud numerous times at gross comedy and then make you think and feel something, too,” Mick LaSalle notes in the San Francisco Chronicle.

“We knew it’d be a divisive film,” says David. “But it’s interesting how we’ve had different responses in different places. At Sundance we didn’t notice that many walkouts, but the worst response would be indifference, so if people are having an emotional response, that’s fine by us. Screening in America, they’re a little more fixated on the scatological parts. When we showed it in Berlin nobody even brought that up.”

The Zellners have form when it comes to urban legends. In 2014 they wrote Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, a drama inspired by the death of Takako Konishi, a Japanese office worker who was erroneously presumed to be searching for the fictional ransom money from the 1996 film Fargo.

“We were both big fans of folklore and myth growing up,” says David. “I’m sure that leads us to some of the ideas we pursue. We love looking at stories that may be more trivial in a different context and trying to give them a certain reverence.”

Sasquatch Sunset is in cinemas from Friday, June 14th