It’s hard to blame a director, or group of producers, for having their interest piqued when tantalized with an interesting or bizarre synopsis for a prospective docuseries. Who among us, hearing something like “an investigation into a grisly triple murder rumored to have been committed by Bigfoot,” doesn’t want to hear a bit more about such a ludicrous premise? Compelling stories have been fashioned out of far less salacious, far less interesting leads than “killer sasquatch on the loose.” But at the end of the day, a documentary often must be judged by what kind of story it’s able to uncover via reporting and investigation. And that, sadly, is where Hulu’s new docuseries Sasquatch completely fails to fill the footprints of its mythical title character. Simultaneously an exploitative quasi-doc on cryptozoology and a lukewarm true crime investigation into murders it can’t actually prove ever occurred, Sasquatch takes on the guise of so many other hoaxsters: A man in a costume, trying to convince you something extraordinary has occurred.
Sasquatch is directed by Joshua Rofé, who produced and directed Amazon’s Lorena Bobbitt docuseries Lorena, and produced by the Duplass brothers, who have also produced the likes of Netflix’s Wild Wild Country and HBO’s recent The Lady and the Dale. It joins recent Hulu documentaries such as the streamer’s recent look into WeWork, and Soleil Moon Frye’s Kid 90, but the true ethos of Sasquatch revolves entirely around its on-screen guide: David Holthouse.
Holthouse is a journalist, of the sort who would likely be proud to be labeled “muckraker”—rough around the edges, comfortable in the presence of thieves and conmen, and always searching for a story to tell. Professionally, he’s likely best known for a disturbing personal essay he wrote in Denver’s Westword in 2004, entitled “Stalking the Bogeyman,” in which Holthouse details his plans to stalk and kill the man who raped him years earlier, when he was only 7. Suffice to say, he decides not to go through with the vengeance killing, and has instead spent the last few decades writing stories that often involve embedding himself in various corners of the criminal underworld, infiltrating groups such as neo-Nazis, street gangs, drug dealers and others in order to write first-person accounts for we normies on the outside. The entire set-up for Sasquatch depends on one of these types of stories, culled from an incident that is now almost 30 years old.
In 1993, Holthouse was visiting a friend, working on a pot farm in a remote part of the “Emerald Triangle” in California’s Mendocino County—so named because it’s the biggest cannabis-producing region in the USA. One dark and stormy night, their camp was visited by an agitated meth addict who excitedly told a story that Holthouse says he overheard. The story: That the tweaker had just come from another pot farm in the area where three Mexican laborers had been savagely torn to bits, apparently by an enraged sasquatch. The crime was never reported, and Holthouse and others present at the time understood that for their own protection they would be expected to stay quiet about it.
Some 25 years later, Holthouse is an investigative reporter who suddenly decides to start looking back into that story he heard in 1993, and this is the basis of Sasquatch—a man investigating a story he heard many years earlier, about which he apparently never had any particular curiosity until now. How convenient that he suddenly redeveloped a burning interest in sasquatch murder at the same time that a documentary crew wanted to film it, right? Holthouse explains his mission as follows: “Maybe someone got away with murder, and I can find out who, and how, and why.” Except no, when all is said and done, he doesn’t particularly do any of these things.
It eventually becomes clear that neither Rofé, nor Holthouse, have any particular belief in the legendary cryptid known as bigfoot—they’re just willing to pretend that they do for 90% of the runtime, if it means they can trick gullible sasquatch true believers (the most obvious viewer demo) into watching the series they’ve produced. To this effect, the entire first episode of Sasquatch functions more or less like an earnest bigfoot documentary, interviewing various luminaries of the field such as Dr. Jeffrey Meldrum, who also appeared in History Channel’s shamefully terrible (and completely fake) Bigfoot Captured back in 2015. This mode of inquiry reaches its nadir with the inclusion of James “Bobo” Fay, a literal cast member/charlatan of Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot, who is presented as merely a sasquatch hunter/enthusiast rather than a TV personality who has made 9 seasons, 100 episodes, and a boatload of money out of failing to bring a show’s title to fruition. In almost a decade to date, the total number of bigfeet “found” on Finding Bigfoot is still firmly in the “zero” camp.
You can’t have a guy like this in your documentary without at least acknowledging that he’s made an entire career out of failing to find bigfoot on TV.
This approach toward documentary filmmaking is highlighted nicely by the first episode’s focus on the famous Patterson-Gimlin film, the most well known piece of Bigfoot footage. You’ve surely seen it before. In the typical mode, the classic footage is pored over once again, and Gimlin himself is interviewed about its veracity… but the filmmakers conveniently choose not to mention the existence of one Bob Heironimus at this point, the man who has been contending for two decades to have been the literal guy in the suit, helping to create the initial hoax. Only when Sasquatch moves on to its second episode do the filmmakers choose to then acknowledge Heironimus and bring him onto camera, and the reason why is plain—Sasquatch is fully intent on first and foremost capitalizing on its primary audience, who are cryptozoology geeks who won’t be able to resist its squatch-y theming. The first episode exists entirely to hook that type of viewer.
Only then do we get to the heart of what Sasquatch really is, which is an attempt at true crime investigation, but sadly one that doesn’t really go anywhere. And this is a shame, because the personalities and seedy locales explored in the second and third episodes of Sasquatch have the potential to be far more memorable than another rote dive into grainy bigfoot footage from 1967. This is what the docuseries actually does well—evoking the mystery of the California wilderness as a place of pristine beauty, where lawlessness and danger not-so-secretly lurk on the fringes. As we come to understand, a place like Mendocino County—which has the highest rate of missing persons per capita of anywhere in the United States—is plenty dangerous without the presence of a rogue bigfoot. In fact, if Bigfoot actually lived here, he’d probably be in considerable danger from all the armed drug lords in the area.
These findings are almost entirely communicated to us by Holthouse through an array of anonymous sources, most of whom are frazzled-looking men either retired from the California cannabis underground, or still deeply embedded in it. Those who actually want to talk about sasquatch hilariously boast that their area’s cannabis is the best and most potent in the world, without ever acknowledging that this might play into sightings of frightening beast men. A few are willing to go on camera, under pseudonyms. A greater number conduct interviews with their faces blurred out, or sit with Holthouse in the darkened front seat of his car to give their accounts of various crimes committed in the area. Voice scrambling technology is employed liberally. They operate under colorful names such as “Razor,” who, when he finally appears on screen, is somehow wearing a Central American tourism shirt emblazoned with a single giant word: “UNBELIZEABLE.” It is a motley crew.
Suffice to say, Holthouse’s sources manage to tell some colorful stories about the war on drugs in California in the 1990s, but their insights into the triple murder he’s supposed to be investigating routinely lead to dead ends. One man interviewed by Holthouse fingers a notorious Hell’s Angels biker as the killer, but our storyteller can’t find anything to link him to the crime, and declines to use his name out of fear of reprisal. In another long sequence, Holthouse comes to suspect that the killings were carried out under the orders of a local pot farmer nicknamed “Bigfoot Gary,” which leads him to question whether he had simply misheard the original story from an agitated meth addict 25 years earlier. It’s a head-shaking reminder of the fact that we’re watching a feature-length investigation into a quarter century old story that the narrator can’t prove ever occurred, and if it did occur he may have misremembered entirely.
Holthouse portrays himself as a hunter of human monsters, but doesn’t have much to show for it in 140 minutes of docuseries footage.
Sasquatch would also like to make some sort of commentary on the plight of/virulent racism experienced by marginalized people and undocumented immigrants in California, but tends to quickly undercut whatever empathy it generates for these people by simultaneously implying that many of them are hardened, merciless criminals who get what they have coming to them. At one point, while considering a theory he’s told that the three Mexican laborers could have been murdered in a revenge killing after raping a man’s daughter, Holthouse straight up endorses vigilante murder, saying that if a father managed to get vengeance on the laborers for that affront, then “good for him.” It should perhaps not be terribly surprising to hear him say that, given the “Stalking the Bogeyman” article he wrote, and his own status as a sexual assault survivor, but it’s still pretty wild to hear a filmmaker investigating a murder suggest that maybe the victims deserved to be murdered.
That is, of course, if the crime ever happened at all, which can never be proven beyond Holthouse meeting people who believe that it did. And in the end, this is the repeated stumbling block that Sasquatch can never work its way around; nor can it extricate itself from the juicy bigfoot headline that allowed it to get made. Without the bigfoot story, there simply would never have been enough of a narrative here to justify making a docuseries. But that “bigfoot attack” theory is being cynically investigated by a man who has no real interest in it, in his hope that along the way, he’ll stumble onto more of a concrete, compelling crime story that won’t feel like too obvious a bait and switch. Suffice to say, even with the spookiness of the California wilderness at their disposal, the team behind Sasquatch never cobble together a tale worthy of their title.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer, and he’s not a Sasquatch in a sophisticated man-suit, as far as you know. You can follow him on Twitter.
For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.